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.