Perfume Godfather Luca Turin famously hates this scintillating floral gem, alongside two other thumbs-down Guerlain creations that received the terse, Turinian shortshrift: the prim and proper Champs Elysées (1996), and the tropical, big-boobs-on-a-beach, slug-all-ya-tropicalia-in-a-sweet-wooden-vat-and-and-mix-it-all-up Mahora (2000), all of which I personally like. The man may be a perfume expert and at times a very brilliant writer, but you sometimes do wonder what’s wrong with his nose (L’Instant and Insolence over these three? I think not).

Anyway, for me, Jardins De Bagatelle –  a sharp, swooning, French flower fantasia/ cedarwood musk from 1983, has always been a delight. It has perhaps the best sillage I know in all perfumery, leaving a beguiling, feminine and intriguing trail in its wake that makes you want to stand up and follow the wearer to her source. Up close and at first, the picture can admittedly be less harmonious – the sheer, plosive, almost metallic, thrust of flower notes, all (synthetic?) gardenia, tuberose, violet, orchid, ylang ylang and jasmine – shiny and shimmering, fountainous as the Tuileries and heady as a self-absorbed love affair in Paris-  enough to bring on a stroke in the most phobically inclined of flower haters. I get that. This perfume is certainly not subtle. Unlike, say, a vintage Ricci, whose watercolour floral bouqets are all about delicacy, prettiness and balance, Bagatelle is a frivolous, nose-painting renegade with absolutely no regard for those around her. She wants to smell lovely and delicious and arresting, and she wants to smell like that now.

The more lingering appeal of Jean Paul Guerlain’s most florid and exuberant creation, though, lies in its more deep-seated fusion with musk (the central pillar of the perfume’s construction along with an adventurously large amount of cedarwood and vetiver), a drier, and more sober accord that clings to the spiralling hysteria of the flowers and gives them all a dose of much needed reality. The perfume thus sings its spring-joyous song in its own inimitable voice (there is nothing else that smells like Jardins De Bagatelle – I find it totally unique), while simultaneously grounding itself in the woody and sensual musk notes that soften the perfume and give it its compelling, womanly, allure.













Back in the days before the internet, the perfume fora and the vast deterioration of quality in the perfume industry generally, before the flankers and the limited editions and the bi-monthly new releases; before Les Matières and the Acqua Allegorias, Les Parisiennes and Les Elixirs Charnels ( I could go on), Guerlain had a far smaller, but still faithfully curated, and quality-controlled collection of perfumes that had brilliantly stood the test of time – at least for those who really knew and appreciated good perfume. There was the exquisite quintet of unperishable beauty created by Jean Paul’s father Jacques: L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondée, Mitsuko, Vol De Nuit and Shalimar– masterpieces of mystery and olfactory poetry whose sheer inventiveness and artistry have made them treasured and loved by perfumists to this very day. There were the citruses – Eau De Coq, Eau De Guerlain, Eau De Cologne Impériale, and the Citrus Dirties – Mouchoir De Monsieur, Jicky. There were the masculine, velveted debonairs : Habit Rouge and Vetiver, and the moody, reticent Parure. But aside Nahéma, a gorgeous rose-peach confection, the hyacinth heartbreaker Chamade (one of my favourite perfumes of all time) and the delightful Chant D’Arômes – a mossy, floral chypre that is also lovely this time of year, there was nothing really bright, floral or even modern in the Guerlain contemporary lineup by the eighties. To remain relevant, or at least current in the more extroverted and colourful climes of that incorrigible decade,  the house had to try and remedy this. And although the perfume was most certainly a very new departure for Guerlain – luminous, aggressive, and almost painfully iridescent,  rather than the aesthetic failure that Luca Turin makes it out to be, Jardins De Bagatelle, so sweet and full of energy, so new, was an intuitive and very inventive volte face for the house by Jean Paul Guerlain that was, in my view,  very clever.


My friend Emma wears Jardins De Bagatelle and it is her signature. It smells utterly fantastic on her, the musk and the flowers somehow subdued, yet with always enough confidence to let the perfume’s notes sing unhindered. In essence this perfume is Emma – they are a natural match and it brings out the best in her. Jardins De Bagatelle also smells quite marvellous on my mother, whose skin was just born to wear jasmine: again, that sillage  – so appealing to my senses – just lingers in every room that either of these women have been in:  not in a cloying, or intrusive, manner –  just resting on corners of the air like a sly, floral fingerprint of their identity.


Seemingly relegated to obscurity in the Guerlain current line up – the original, glass-angular, very eighties oblong flacon now replaced with the generic bee-bottle, Jardins De Bagatelle is perhaps not as fashionable as it once might have been, if it ever actually was (did Jean Paul Guerlain’s efforts to bring some power zazz into the hallowed Guerlain halls actually work commercially? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps Brielle, who used to work at Guerlain, can enlighten us). But whether it was, or was not a ‘success’, to me personally, in its sheer vivacity, its volupté, its unrepressed, full-bloomed and light-filled buoyancy, for me, Jardins De Bagatelle  – the finest kind of floral anomaly – will forever remain an annual, bright, and always very uplifting, pleasure.



Filed under Flowers


  1. emmawoolf

    Thank you for writing this. There must be some wierd kind of telepathy going on between us at the moment: I’m writing this at st pancras, on the way to a short break in Paris. I only have one perfume in my suitcase: it is of course, jardins de bagatelle! X

  2. Lilybelle

    So funny, I’d been thinking about Jardin de Bagatelle recently, wondering whether it might be for me. I remember it from the 80s, remember seeing the bottle and taking a sniff, but I didn’t wear it and nobody else I knew did. I’d like to try it.

  3. David

    Interesting you mention Chamade in this post. I’m in NYC at the moment and, after sampling hundreds of fragrances (mostly niche), Chamade is the one that stands out. I’m happy that a classic is the most memorable. I felt tired and maybe tortured with all that’s available….I just don’t know if I can pull Chamade off. It’s too lovely for me. It’s my own fault. I got stuck on trying to be all hard and brutal and skanky with fragrance. I so need to come up from the dungeon. It’s not the only place I belong.

    • Beautifully put. But if you DO need the dungeon BUT need the beauty, these last two weeks I have been having a full blown love affair – more than with any other scent for a long time -with Parfum D’Hermes parfum. I find it D I V I N E. I don’t know how well you know it but for me it’s Chamade ( which, to my great frustration I also can’t carry off ) but with the most addictively dirty amber base. This also I don’t know if I can truly carry off effectively but I love it so much I don’t care. I did a side by side comparison the other night and much as the galbanum hyacinthine beauty of the Chamade was as incredible as ever I have to say that the Parfum D’Hermes won out. The decadent filth on my wrist the next morning was quite mindbending.

  4. “L’Instant and Insolence over these three? I think not.” Yes!!
    Love this whole piece and all the parts: some beautiful turns of phrase and images, and especially the ideas and your perspective and your deep appreciation of everything that makes scent so compelling and essential. Really resonates for me. It’s so satisfying to be exposed to the breadth and depth of your knowledge. Of course, I could say that about everything you write. Oh, no, eek, I don’t mean to be fawning! Just happy to read your stuff.

    When Jardins de Bagatelle came out, I hadn’t heard the term “shrieky” and it probably hadn’t yet been invented, but that’s what I would have used to describe it. As you say, though, the effect at distance may be something else entirely, beautiful and magical and perfect on certain skins, certain women – and men.

    • Somehow I knew you would find it shrieky. I anticipated this difference in our perspectives and you are right: it IS shrill in a way, very strong and packed together ( there is NO oxygen in the blend close up ), but there is also something extremely distinctive about the tuberose violet combination: you could never just think of this as a ‘white floral’- it really carves out its own territory and on the right person just smells incredible. I suppose at heart I am just a complete Guerlainophile.

  5. I knew it wasn’t right, but too early in the morning to know why. I meant “screechy.”

    • No, ‘screechy’ is way duller. Sanchez and Turin use the word about a hundred times in their guide and it gets VERY repetitive ( could they not afford a proof reader?).

      Shrieky describes Jardins de Bagatelle rather well.

      • That makes me feel a little better, thanks!
        After reading your piece, I really regret passing up the chance a few months ago to own a vintage bottle. Probably had Turin’s comments in my head somewhere. Damn. Shoulda sprung for it. I hear the newest formulation is a shadow . . .

      • Do you go for fluorescent white florals, though? Even with a Guerlain touch?

  6. Heya,
    I have an old bottle of JdB and a more modern one thinking from what I’d read that it was a perfect fit. Very nice and quite pretty for the short time it lasts on me but it was never a grand love.
    No, I don’t know why other than longevity. You have made me go through my cupboard though to find it to wear tomorrow, let’s see.
    Portia xx

  7. Fluorescent white florals. That’s a perfect description. Hmm, I don’t know if I do, and that’s a bit embarrassing, because I like to think I’m quite the equal-opportunity fragrance lover. I guess Carnal Flower would be the loudest white floral I own: close enough? Or back in the day, Oscar de la Renta. . . I do remember, as a woman in my mid-twenties in the early eighties, trying – and failing – to describe to the sales assistants the particular note(s) in certain fragrances I just couldn’t stand: the accord I’d now call shrieky. I still wonder what it was/is. Revlon Charlie was loaded with it.

    By the way, I keep humming Astrud Gilberto ever since I read this. I long for those mythically innocent days I never experienced myself.

    • It is very strange that you mention Astrud Gilberto as I was thinking about her yesterday evening for some reason. About the time I saw her in London and she raced through Ipanema/Take me to Aruanda etc in one medley she obviously hated doing, in order to sing the new stuff she liked. I think I was thinking about what is popular and what is not.

      • Intriguing. I can imagine that with singers having long careers singing the “popular” oldies would be tedious at best. Still, to me she’ll always be that It Girl, Brazilian style, with a thick fringe, teased crown, cat-eyeliner and cute block heels. Singing It Might as Well be Spring. That would be 1964, with Stan Getz. What fragrance would she be wearing, N.?

      • I wonder. I saw her in the nineties in London though as a middle aged lady. It was a strange concert, but I was actually pleased that she was forging ahead with her new stuff and not pandering to people.

        I wonder what they were wearing in Brazil in 1964………my instinct was Ma Griffe for some reason. All those green and white Carven polka dots. What do you reckon?

  8. Ma Griffe? Polka dots? Yeah. I can dig it. 😉

  9. It just hit me. Green and white . . . stripes! Diagonal stripes!!

  10. Oops, sorry. Certified General Accountant. Might be a licensed professional designation only in Canada.

  11. Funny, I am just reading this now when I ordered I new bottle of Jardins de Bagatelle last week and am awaiting its arrival.I haven’t worn it since the late eighties and I’m really looking forward to wearing it again (hoping it still works for me) .

  12. This is one of my favorite Guerlain scents, a truly bright and happy floral. Sadly, this was not as much of a hit as other Guerlain scents, yet it kept them relevant during the 80’s. It was a complete departure from the well known Guerlain type of scent, but without the 80’s over the top quality. I am sure it has its loyal fan base, or else it would have gone the way of Parure and many others from the house. I find it to be a sophisticated floral, one that you need a bit of pizzaz to pull off well. I think the basenotes of the fragrance keep it from becoming too flighty and effervescent, yet they do not stop it from holding a high c longer than any other contemporary florals.
    Once our weather warms up, I think I will have to indulge in a few spritzes.

  13. emmawoolf

    I’m glad it has some more fans! Interesting that some find it shrill or flourescent. I would never think of it in that way (but I am a bit of a hysterical soprano, so maybe it’s the perfect fit?) I love the violet and tuberose, but to me J de B is also beautifully creamy, lush and warm, yes a wee bit metallic, and slightly sparkling, like fizzy sweets (or maybe a rosé pétillant?). I am never a fan of jasmine or ylang ylang (in fact I detest the neat essential oils of these two) but somehow the combination just works. I wear it so much and have worn it more or less incessantly over the past two decades I have become immune to its more strident qualities, which probably doesn’t do me any favours in the office. But I’m glad it has stayed more or less unchanged, even in recent formulations. (Just feeling nostaglic for the bath range – I had the full line at one stage – and a little sad about the downgrade to the generic bee bottle. I do like my current OTT gold refill spray, however.)

    • YUM. And love the idea of the bath products. SO luxurious, SO gorgeous.

      Thing is, as I said in the review, on you it absolutely is NOT strident or sharp, and that is how I have always loved it. It is PERFECTO on you, which is probably why people actually in all likelihood LOVE it on you mia cara. I love Cristalle on you too, but that is cooler, more removed. Bagatelle is the full Emma.

  14. emmawoolf

    I so hope our paths will cross (August is getting away time, for us) x

  15. jennyredhen

    I do love Ma Griffe.. I appreciate it is a bit dated and pedantic.. your description of ambiguous suits it as well

  16. Been having a strange, out-of-the-blue hankering to own both Jardins de Bagatelle and Champs-Élysées — re-plumbing the Guerlain depths, I suppose, having run out of fresh waters — and of course, your reviews of both have been the most helpful I’ve come across by far! Thank you yet again, Neil. I’ve ordered them unsniffed, and have found very good prices online, but now am tempted to bite my nails after pondering your views on reformulation . . . Any room for cautious optimism, my dear?

  17. Adding this because I forgot to click the “Notify me of new comments” box!

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