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You can’t beat Guerlain. The sheer number of perfumes, both current and lost, the gorgeousness. Sometimes I spend a morning dipping into the Monsieur Guerlain website just to delve into the archives and ogle what I don’t have, to suck up trivia about the house and imagine what it must be like to have free access to those vaults full of old recipes and beautiful bottles of rich and ravishing perfumes that I would love get my hands on.



The house certainly is prolific. And while that is no guarantee of quality (think: Tutti Kiwi, Grosselina, ‘L’Homme Ideal’, to name but a few recent disappointments), it is always interesting to either reacquaint yourself with some of the the more interesting relatively recent olfactory successes – Metallica is divine, as is Attrape Coeur –  although both have been moronically discontinued in favour of such mucoid banalites as the Idylle range – or else access now forgotten scents by Guerlain that you had, somehow, never even heard of.













Belle Epoque is one such scent, a sample of which I noticed the other day and which I never even realized I had; sent, I think, by Brielle (who used to work for the company – I have never shoplifted in my life but I can’t guarantee that I would have been entirely well behaved in the stock room on a Friday afternoon had I been in the same position; some soaps, or bain moussant at the very least, surely, would have slipped their way into my pockets).




















For me, any strongly scented jasmine/tuberose sandalwood combination has a certain,  unavoidable vulgarity. Creed’s Jasmin Eugenie Imperatrice is the perfect example of this effect; plush, thick, dense, and sexual – a touch rogueish and strong-willed, not shy at all, even rude  – which is why I like it in some ways even as it overwhelms and clobbers you over the head.  I admire its don’t-give-a-shitness. Its aspect of I am in the room, so deal with it. Samsara also, obviously has this quality, in buckets (a love/hate relationship, always, with me) – so……bosoming, thick-thighed, in ya face. 




Belle Epoque, while certainly more subtle than either of the above (though also less characterful), belongs to the same family of perfumes. Founded on a solid base of vanilla, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and tonka, the oil-painted florals up top (an orange and apricot-tinged jasmine, ylang and low octave tuberose) sink into the full body of the perfume, which, if you squint long enough, could indeed be reminiscent of saucy  c. 19 dames chuckling in the boudoir; a whiff of ribald, satined corpulence ; bra-popping jokes.




Libidinous and suave though it is, Belle Epoque nevertheless doesn’t quite hit the mark, not having quite enough inner poetry somehow (even of the erotic kind) to make it especially memorable, though in low doses I can imagine the scent having a definite, if undefinable, presence. It is a scent that lends heft and confidence, if not mystery. Jean Paul Guerlain must have quite liked it though, as the perfume clearly was the template for the big, mainstream (and financial catastrophe) that the house released the following year: MAHORA, a name that had a touch too much of ‘whore’ in it to hit the big time, perhaps (particularly in more conservative America).  Just add some tiare, some sunscreen, and some and coconut to Belle Epoque, though, and you have Guerlain’s big-hipped foray into tropicalia (now called Mayotte in a slimmed-down re-edition in the Parisiennes collection, and losing something in the process).





I myself quite  like Mahora. I can remember when it was released in Japan, my friend Denise and I completely dousing ourselves in the new parfum at a Tokyo department store. We stunk out the train. I sprayed cards and cards of perfume blotters with the scent in all its forms as well during this period, and my Madonna ‘Music’ album still smells strongly of it all these years later as that was where I secreted them. I like such perfumes. They bolster and amuse, when there is so much anorexic negation about in current climes: the stick-thin, desexualized creatures walking around in bone-dry woods and synthetic, futuristic flowers, or otherwise completely ‘unscented’ (or so they like to believe) ; the big trend in Japan right now being for non-alcoholic alcoholic drinks that contain no sugar, no alcohol, no this, no that (and no taste). Zero this, zero that:  Zero, zero, zero.  Slim down to pre-pubescence. Deny  yourself pleasure. Lose weight or die. Or else, it all goes completely the other way on a Saturday night in England or America  : overkill on-a plate; all about that ‘bass’, the ass: booty, rack, whatever, all coated in nasty vanillic tack, oversweetened and come-here-baby and with no room to breathe; those currently popular scents that you smell everywhere, be they duty free or high street, that really are vulgar. They bore and annoy. They suggest thick-headedness and stupidity. Perfume as porn. As a free ride. And in comparison,  a scent like Belle Epoque –  well made and sturdy; rich and curvaceous – even while winking coquettishly in the direction of licentiousness – is pure class.


Filed under Floriental

13 responses to “A SPLASH OF VULGARITY : : BELLE EPOQUE by GUERLAIN (1999 )

  1. Oh yes, the era of M. Modestie who made the rounds on the Can Can dancing girls to make sure their under-pantalettes were buttoned up during the bottom-up-up leg-split at the end …
    Three seconds of forbidden fruit instead of an overdose of canned fruit salad.
    I like Mahora too, better than modern Opium. YSL would turn in his grave at the merest whiff … Synthetics instead of velvet fin de siècle.

  2. It was me who sent along the Belle Époque. I find it to be very wearable in a completely unassuming way. It is the scent that bridges between Jardins de Bagatelle and Mahora. It is the link in that fragrance chain, but is just a subtle link.
    Speaking of Mahora. I was able to smell the working formula of it long before they released it. Let me tell you, I loved the version I smelt. It was much more like the classic Guerlain scents, quite different from the version they ended up releasing. Too bad the version of it they are selling now is even further removed from the Guerlain aesthetic of yore.

  3. Robin

    The boy can write. Thank you, N.

    • Oh really? Wasn’t sure about this one as I had to go to work. Should I post something? Do I want to write that thing I was thinking about or shall I shelve it? But the sample suddenly presented itself. I wrote, and got in the shower. Your comment is very appreciated.

      • Robin

        Happy to hear it. I’m truly not being a fawning fan of yours. I sincerely get blown away by your writing. It’s this creative, original, knowledgable mind doing a great free-form stream-of-consciousness thing. I’ve been into fragrance for years and years and get more out of your stuff than anyone else’s out there.

      • Definitely stream of conscious! It comes out in one torrent.

        Thanks again.

  4. I’ve never of heard of Belle Epoque!

    Too bad it doesn’t quite hit the mark but loved reading about it – especially this line “reminiscent of saucy c. 19 dames chuckling in the boudoir; a whiff of ribald, satined corpulence ; bra-popping jokes.” Fabulous.

  5. emmawoolf

    Interesting, thank you. Did you read that Luca Turin quote that of the original Paris perfume houses, (Chanel, Caron and Guerlain), the latter was always considered the more slapper-ish? (I hadn’t realised, no doubt you do). I find all the more recent Guerlains disappointing but did really like the slight but pleasant combo of Figue/Iris Aqua Allegoria that came out a few years ago. Alas it has been discontinued, but I read recently that it is shortly to be reissued in edp format as a new fragrance, Promenade des Anglais. This sounds nice, think I, until I find out it’s only available in France at some ridiculously extortionate figure, over a hundred dollars. Oh yes and it’s in a green bee bottle with a purple ribbon. I’m sorry, but this sort of thing is a) tacky and b)makes me cross. For now I’m sticking with my usual favourites: Jardins de Bagatelle and Vetiver. (Apres l’Ondee is lovely too, but too melancholy for January:it just makes me cry).

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