Nina is an old friend from university who is currently staying with us in Kamakura and has brought along an interesting and very eclectic selection of perfumes. One of them is L’Heure Bleue.

Neil : I have always loved L’Heure Bleue from the first moment I smelled it as a teenager. It is a delicious perfume I think: sweet, dense, moreishly powdery and chewy, yet also elegant and wistful and not easy to dissect. It is enveloping and famously crepuscular – the whole thing of representing the ‘blue hour’; that time at dusk in Paris before the night sets that definitely comes through, but though romantic and quite feminine, I personally don’t find it particularly melancholic (that would be Après l’Ondée). To me it is strangely flamboyant and extravagant, tawdry even. It puts me in a good mood, but I also find it a touch suffocating. What is your own story with it?

Nina: Four years ago, I was wandering around John Lewis in Sheffield, spinning out a dull but mildly warm Summer Holiday Tuesday whilst waiting for my daughter to finish her trapeze training. Ambling past the Guerlain section I reached instinctively for L’Heure Bleue (it was the EDT version) and was immediately overwhelmed with an acute feeling of being spun back to the I950s. It reminded me of certain older women from my childhood – immensely elegant, dry, intelligent, sometimes reproving other times giddy and indulgent spinsters. It recalled my French teacher – a tall, pale, soft and willowy women with impeccably painted pink nails, silver permed hair, whose handbag was forever dispensing 47II Eau de Cologne wipes and who loved to treat her pupils on special occasions to a Knickerbocker Glory down Morellis ice-cream parlour. Rumour had it she was engaged during the war but decided to remain unmarried after, devoting herself to teaching a motley assortment of grammar school girls, enjoying her evenings (as she once told me) looking out across the Channel from her clifftop flat in the CI8th Regency crescent so typical of Ramsgate seafront and spending her Summers wandering around Paris. She was one of those women for whom the war was the most exciting time and who formed a strong core of steel and silver in her demeanour from her activities then, retaining always an air of mystery and the sense that there were many secrets buried neatly within her under that silk and powder surface. For the rest of the Summer I was obsessed with seeking out L’Heure Bleue. It’s a soft cocoon of a perfume – one you can climb inside and linger safely in for a while. I plagued the very handsome but disdainful young Greek guy selling it in the Manchester Debenhams to try the EDP and he politely pretended each time not to recognise me. Then one day on a whim I bought a bottle, instantly facebooked you to tell you Neil, and you wrote back that you had at that moment just been thinking of the perfume yourself. So, timely.

Neil : Completely gorgeous reminiscences. The image of that woman you are describing perfectly captures the Parisian plumed gauziness of the scent. The edp you have upstairs is nice actually, but also the edt I got through in no time (a gift from Helen: I never wore it but I used it if you know what I mean) had a freshness Iiked, with more bergamot up top. Neither of these bottles though quite capture how I remember L’Heure Bleue being. As it used to be there was this almost fried doughnut aspect in the base, a very gourmet edibility that thrilled me: the way it contrasted with all the anisically doused flowers (ylang, iris, violet especially, but also that anti-intuitive (and thus genius) tuberose orange blossom counterpoint, mixed up with a certain spiciness and then the sharp citruses: it was all so orchestrally complex in a way, a real symphony of scent. Whenever someone wore this (I have only ever smelled it on two people or so) it made me swoon when they walked past: it made me want to grab that person and sink my nose into their neck and bite. I am not entirely sure if this current edition would elicit the same reaction, but I do still love it. How do you feel when you wear it? You were saying that it works quite nicely when you are teaching, that it has a calming effect on the kids. Why do you think that is? Is it the sort of pillowy musk vanilla underneath it all that is soothing in some way?

Also, how do you find L’Heure Bleue compared to the other classic Guerlains?

Nina: (Cue Neil goes off for his bath leaving me with a selection to sniff. Sitting, soaked from a two minute dash to the post office in the lusciously warm, wet, Kamakura rain, and Francois Hardy popping up on the i-player, I peruse and muse…)

I know what you mean about the doughnut smell – I have never smelled a vintage, but I noticed this in my early explorations of the EDT. Something pastry-sweet, almondy, a cinammon roll…

I love what you write here about the compulsion to sink nose and teeth into the wearer’s necks… yes, I think it’s a perfume that invites connection and touch whilst maintaining a certain aloofness and coolness – the kind of coolness that comes from vulnerability – I think that’s the Iris. I always get that feeling when I smell Iris in scents.

It is calming. And yes, I frequently wear it when teaching – particularly when starting with a new class or school – being a supply teacher I’m always in and out, and L’Heure Bleue is a safe bet. It’s a scent that can put other staff members at ease as it’s one of those scents that anyone raised in the 80s can recall older women wearing I think, even if they don’t know what it is, and Guerlain as a house is very reassuring and familiar; the fragrances have a certain independent, demure, quality – present and definite without being ostentatious. I suspect its formality also plays a role in being a good one for the classroom. I frequently teach the classes full of excluded kids, and the children with various support needs and behavioural issues and think the balance of formality and warmth in L’Heure Bleue sets a safe tone – its coolness and melancholy chimes well with the sadness so many kids feel being stuck in an alien and frustrating school environment whilst its citrusy sweet notes reassure and uplift. At the start of this year I worked in a school which was distressingly more like a detention centre or prison than a school. Kids dreaded the stigma of being sent there, the buildings were falling apart, there were locked doors along every section of the corridors that you had to lock and unlock without letting children through, and there was a sound of constant banging all day as kids kicked at them trying to get out. I wore L’Heure Bleue religiously every day whilst there – it was like a protector; not from the children but from the environment which was punitive and cruel. The children were tiny, poor and fierce; the staff desperate, loving and stoic, but resigned to the inevitable decline of the place and warning us to expect kicks, spits, bites and scratches as par for the course. It was desperately sad and I spent every night in floods of tears processing the day. L’Heure Bleue somehow contained and expressed the intensities of that environment and since then .

Neil: Smelling it on you now, do you know what I mean about L”Heure Bleue smelling a bit Indian somehow? For me it is definitely the most exotic of the still extant Jacques Guerlains: it’s Parisian but also a touch Maharajah

Nina: Yes I know exactly what you mean – a bit saffrony perhaps? Has it got cloves in? almost astringent.

Just tried the Apres L’Ondee EDT vintage. For me, it’s instant carnival – fruity, full, immediate – brings to mind the film Black Orpheus.. carneval de Manha…soft and full like the singing of Miriam Makeba

But that too has a note I can’t place – ah, that’s cinammon perhaps, nutmeg? Cloves again? I’m thinking apple pie and English gardens now… there’s a real freshness and spice to it. Very sweet.

Ok, while Neil is off again getting dressed let’s peruse…

Shalimar, vintage, parfum – for me this is quintessentially you, Neil, and it always makes me think of you.

I love that intense leather it has, all embracing, sweet, warm

Neil : Yes well Shalimar is the most me by far, in the sense that I can drain bottle after bottle and it feels completely natural and perfect on me from start to finish. At the same time, it doesn’t intrigue and obsess me the way Vol De Nuit does, not by any stretch. Wearing that puts me into a dreamy poetic state. Shalimar just makes me horny.

Nina: Hahaha I can see why, it’s very sensuous. I just see plum pink interiors and cream leather sofas. And elegant gentlemen sprawled indolently over them… it’s a sexy scent. Very definite and self-assured.

Neil :This old and very vintage Mitsouko extrait just smells like a miserable old bat, doesn’t it? Musty and dour doesn’t even begin to describe it. Rather than your serenity inducing school teacher, this woman is a witch.

Liking the benzoiny aspect in the Bleue now, by the way.

Nina: Yes, it comes through after a time. I like it best on my skin at this point, when the initial sharpness has faded.

Mitsouko – what an austere old dame this one is. I see her, small, wizened, black hair in a bun, round, hornrimmed glasses, eyes peering fiercely out at us, little pinprick dots of blackness, her nose screwed up in perpetual lemonface and tight tight lips. She’d whip you with the bamboo for the slightest indiscretion or misdemeanour. But she’s an orphan.

She can find the sweetness of lime – which she likes to suck on from time to time. And the powder that she dusts herself with daily is a secret pleasure – she drowns herself in it when no-one is around…

Neil : (as Nina goes to wash off the Mitsouko that has stained her nostril)

I mean I think that this is a particularly fusty Mitsouko: if you smelled the parfum de toilette I have upstairs you would see the more gourmandise relationship to L’Heure Bleue, which, by the way, smells spectacular on you now. The way it warms up on the skin and glows, refined but sensual and mesmeric. Yum. I have to quickly iron my shirt now and get to work – I’ll put this up tonight when I get in.

You are off to Kyoto and Osaka with Duncan tonight. What perfumes are you going to take with you?

Nina : I don’t know. I’ve just been distracted by your Velvet Desire (Dolce and Gabbana) which smells utterly gorgeous on you

(Pause while I call Neil back twice to smell his wrist lingeringly. Ok, now he’s off to get dressed. Much as I’d like to smell his wrist for a few minutes longer…)

Right, I don’t know. I’ve just tried the Jicky which is very sensuous – makes me feel like I’m nuzzling someone’s collar – a warm neck, a soft chest – feels very strong and masculine and reassuring which is what I aim to be in life haha.. Jicky, the man I would like to be…but I digress.

I think today, I’ll just wear the spots of Guerlain I’m now sporting sans addition – L’Heure Bleue on my right wrist, Jicky on my right forearm, Apres L’Ondée (perfect now I am dry again and the rain has stopped) on my left wrist, Shalimar on my left elbow….no Mitsouko in my nostrils (though it is stinging slightly, that old witch)… Hmm..ah, Stina has just come on… perfect.. I will just bask in this Guerlain..dwell in it. Like the soft darkness and smooth silky wood of the rainy Bamboo garden I was in yesterday

I was going to wear vintage Armani Pour Femme today, layered over Korre’s Victoria Plum cream… But I may just stick with the Roger et Galet Gingembre spritz for the weekend… travel light…Neil, come back and finish off

Neil : I will. This was fun. We must do it again.

Nina : Most definitely. We will. x


Filed under Flowers


  1. KimB

    I looooove L’Heuru Bleue in the summer. The heat brings out the anise on my skin and I find it soothing, cooling and calming. I fell in love with L’Heure Bleue on a trip to London in July during an unusually hot week and bought the parfum extrait the same day. I can’t get enough of it in the summer heat!! I am a huge fan of the classic Guerlains and love Shalimar, Mitsouko, Jicky, Vol de Nuit in extrait but have only had the chance to sample Shalimar in the vintage. There is no going back once you try the vintage so now I am seeking the other classic Guerlains in vintage.

    • Shalimar is still ok in the current version I think, Vol De Nuit definitely not. Smelling the edp of L’Heure Bleue on Nina yesterday though (non vintage) that also smelled really gorgeous. Still, there is that foody element missing for me that made the original more sublimely luxurious.

  2. Simply fabulous. I loved the whole feel of this encounter, I felt as if I was with the two of you whilst you were experiencing the Guerlains and sharing your thoughts with us..
    I am saddened that Mitsouko is such a sour patch for the both of you, on me it sings, it truly does. It is warm and caramelly, with just enough edge to not feel too sedate; not to mention the peachy lactones in it that just float on me as if the perfume were hitting a crystal clear high C and letting it just trail off.
    This is a fabulous idea Neil, please do some more like this.

    • Thanks, and I agree about the Mitsouko. It can definitely be more golden and peachy. Somehow this particular extrait though really is as we describe it: a miserable old cow.

      • You need to be rid of it. Mitsouko is really such a glory of a scent. Try to find one in the Meteorites cloisonne spray, it is vintage 80’s perfection.

  3. jennyredhen

    Thats a terribly sad story about that school Nina.. Good on you for caring enough to work there. England sounds like such a god awful place.. I suppose they will be legalising slavery next.

  4. jennyredhen

    I am off to try some l’Heure Bleu today. I have tried it before and I found it a bit too blue.. for me…. but you have convinced me to try it again.. the description of Shalimar is perfect Nina.. it isnt a very feminine scent its a bit too exact… Very nice but not quite ….Samsara is my favourite Guerlain…You have just about sold Ramsgate to me as well.. Maybe I could handle England if it was Ramsgate on the way to Paris.. Can you still to Paris via Ramsgate??

  5. jennyredhen

    Noam Chomsky says Austerity measures is just a euphemism for Class warfare.
    In tough economic times the rich just beat the poor.
    It has been said that sex is the one pleasure the Rich cant take off the Poor.. but they are working on it.

    • I wonder if part of the fried doughnut thing going on with vintage L’HB is the orris root? As my extrait is evolving, I do sense that thick, fresh, doughy quality in the background. What I’d really love to do is take a time machine and go back to talk to Jacques Guerlain himself and have him walk me through its progression. Then do the same with everything else he created.

  6. Love the sense of eavesdropping on the two of you. Reminds me of getting together with a wine-savvy — or at least emotional and verbally creative — friend to drink a bottle of good wine and riff on all the scents and flavours and textures.

    I just went to grab my bottle of contemporary L’Heure Bleue EdT for reference. I do know what you mean about the fried doughnut note of the vintage and it is absent here. I also found my rosebud bottle of vintage extrait and now the contrast (non-doughnutty vs doughnutty) is marked, along with the much more heart-stirring quality of the old stuff. To me, the extrait is loaded with a slightly caramelized but dry tonka bean, sweet liqueur-like anise and a smoky vanilla, and the iris is huge and blue-purple, opulent. The vintage EdP had similar qualities, I remember, back in my twenties. Switching back to the EdT, it is really very attractive. Guerlain has done a reasonable job, all things considered. But I wish every fragrance lover could try all the Guerlains in vintage, just to experience why the house was so revered.

    L’HB was my first Guerlain. I’d found it youthful and really easy to wear, velvety and cuddly: amazingly, you know, compared to what the kids are wearing now, and a testament to the extraordinariness of those times.

  7. L’Heure Bleue is probably my very favorite Guerlain. I have the EDT and the EDT but love it especially in the EDP. When I was a very young girl, I remember buying my Mom a bottle of the perfume. Oh how I wish I could smell that vintage once again.

  8. Tara C

    I so love the name of this perfume, it is my favourite moment of the day, but it just smells like rubber gloves on me. So sad.

  9. Robin

    Wonderful to reread this, Neil. Thank you. Rushed to put on some current edp to join the l’HB groove.

    Hmm. That was interesting. Wow. Disappointing, as I’ve been disappointed by it before, but not wanting to give up on it. I’ve tried to love this new formulation. I go back to it occasionally hoping that I’ll somehow find the way into it, to no avail. I think because I’m so familiar with the original parfum, nothing else will trigger the same feelings, and it’s a crappy feeling to be searching for things in this that just aren’t there. Not that unusual with Guerlain’s modern interpretations, but more disappointing because this one was so close to my heart.

    The original parfum was texturally so pleasurable. Soft, cushion-y, enveloping. Blue velvet. Sweet with its richness more than because of any truly sweet notes. Emotional. Mostly emotional: the melancholy longing tempered by the pure joy in the experience of it.

    This edp is angular, hard, coarse. There is a rough wall of notes. There is nothing to fill in that structure. No richness. No softness. No magic. No feeling. I can smell from a distance — I sprayed it in the air also, trying for perspective, because it was so unrelentingly unyielding up close — that it is l’Heure Bleue, but a cheap, heartless impostor.

    I don’t mean at all to rain on anyone’s parade. If you respond to the current formulation, I’m happy for you. Very jealous, actually. I would love to have that back, have the chance to use it lavishly, to know I could replenish my stash. I would love to find beauty and harmony in it, relive the pleasure and the emotions, go back to a good place in my life. Instead, I carefully mete out the remains of my vintage bottle of extrait and feel sadness along with the joy.

    I love that you linked us back to this, though, and I’m grateful for that.

  10. Robin

    By good place in my life, I mean being very young and out there in the world, discovering it as a fledgling woman in the early seventies in all its freshness and novelty. The seventies were wild and still innocent. So was I. I love my life now, love it more than then; I don’t mean that my l’HB days were the only good days by any stretch.

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