Guerlain Cuir Beluga

Source: de.flash-screen.com

Source: de.flash-screen.com

A cashmere cloud of cream and pink, with the soothing comfort of Mary Poppins telling you take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime. There is no medicine to go with that sweetness in this case, only marzipan treats, powdered meringues, and vanilla milk. It’s an absolutely addictive spoonful of deliciousness that, alas, fades away to a lingering whisper all too quickly.

Source: pop.com.br

Source: pop.com.br

Cuir Beluga from Guerlain reminds me of Mary Poppins, the comfort of the nursery at bedtime with softened lights adding a warm glow, and endless plates of almondy confections with marzipan, all accompanied by vanilla cream. I have never been so enchanted by the opening of one of Guerlain’s modern, niche perfumes, or more crushed when it evaporated to a silken wisp less than 20 minutes in. It remained there for many more hours, but the true glory was gone astonishingly quickly, and that is a serious problem for me.

Source: forum.bodybuilding.com

Cuir Beluga is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière Collection which was launched in 2005. The name of the line means “Art and (raw) Materials,” and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.” As for the “Beluga” part of the perfume’s name, I’ve read that it refers to one of two things: either the word for “white” in Russian, or to the whiteness of a Beluga whale (which is also sometimes called a “white whale”). In either case, the point is whiteness, with a pun on the luxurious of caviar, but the scent has absolutely nothing to do with fishiness whatsoever.

Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that was released in 2005, and was created by Olivier Polge, the son of Chanel‘s famous in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “velvety oriental” and writes:

Light and shade meet on the skin.

With Cuir Beluga, the Guerlain perfumer chose to interpret the softness of white suede in an absolutely luxurious and addictive version. Like an intense, warm light on the skin, the fragrance opens with an aldehyde mandarin accord drawn out into an everlasting flower note and then wrapped in a voluptuous cloud of amber, heliotrope and vanilla. An intense and totally unexpected sensorial experience.

In a different part of the same Cuir Beluga entry, Guerlain adds that the leather is “a white suede for women and men, as enveloping as cashmere,” and also says the fragrance is:

Luminous, rare, enveloping.
Top notes: aldehydes, mandarin.
Heart notes: patchouli, everlasting flower [Immortelle].
Base notes: vanilla, amber, heliotrope, white suede note.

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

It is impossible to analyse Cuir Beluga without discussing heliotrope, so a brief description of the note may be useful for those unfamiliar with the name. Fragrantica has a great explanation of both its aroma, and how it appears in the other, well-known, heliotrope-centered fragrances:

The odour profile is powdery, like vanilla meringue with a helping of almond. The characteristic comforting scent of heliotrope has been proven to induce feelings of relaxation and comfort, a pampering atmosphere that finds itself very suited to languorous oriental fragrances and delicious “gourmands”.

In Kenzo Amour the heliotropin take is on the vanillic side, boosted by milky notes. In Love, Chloe we encounter the retro-smelling pairing of heliotropin and violet notes producing a powdery effect, reminiscent of makeup products. […] In Lolita Lempicka eau de parfum heliotropin takes a anisic mantle and becomes a full-blown gourmand, while in the older Cacharel Loulou it’s the comforting billowy background alongside tonka bean (with which it shares an almond and hay facet) and orris, producing a true floriental. In L’Eau d’Hiver (F.Malle) heliotropin is almost reduced to its pure state: fluffy, like a late afternoon cloud. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Heliotrope.

Heliotrope.

In the past, Guerlain has loved using heliotrope in conjunction with other elements, but one of the goals of the L’Art et La Matiere collection is to highlight a single raw material. Cuir Beluga may have leather in its name, but, in my opinion, the material being highlighted here is actually the Heliotropin of so many old Guerlain masterpieces. As that Fragrantica page explains:

classic scents have also greatly benefited from heliotropin, notably the nostalgic L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain which pairs the vanillic facet of heliotropin with anise on top, soft flowers in the heart (violet and carnation) and benzoin, iris and Tonka bean in the base to compliment the floral-oriental character of this iconic composition. Or the more ethereal Guerlain Apres L’Ondee which is mainly the pairing of warm heliotropin with cool and shy violets. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Meringues via motherearthnews.com

Meringues via motherearthnews.com

Cuir Beluga opens on my skin with a brief touch of light boozy sweetness, followed by heliotrope and a hint of honeyed floral Immortelle, all wrapped in a soft, rich, deep, amber embrace. The heliotrope smells simultaneously like delicate flowers, almond paste, meringues, powder, and sweetened Play-Doh. It’s an incredibly soothing, comforting mix, and instantly made me think of Mary Poppins wrapping someone up in a warm, pink flannel, while telling them to have a spoonful of sugar. The boozy touch quickly vanishes, as does the immortelle. The latter never smells of any of its usual manifestations on my skin. It’s not dry, dusty, green, curry-like, or heavy maple syrup. Instead, it was merely a brief touch of warm flowers, that accentuated the delicate floralacy of the heliotrope.

Marzipan almond paste. Source: vancouversun.com

Marzipan almond paste. Source: vancouversun.com

Within minutes, Cuir Beluga turns into a deliciously pillowy, fluffy blend of Play-Doh (one of heliotrope’s main characteristics) with almond-y marzipan and a whiff of flowers in a vanilla cocoon that is just barely flecked with amber. I have a massive soft spot for heliotrope when it’s done well, and it most certainly is in this instance. Marzipan is also one of my favorite confectionary sweets, which pretty much makes me a goner for Cuir Beluga’s opening minutes. I’ve tried the perfume a few times over the last few months, and the beautifully balanced sweetness of the marzipan, almond vanilla grows more addictive with each wearing. It’s never cloying, heavily sugared, cheap, or artificial in nature.

Carnation condensced, sweetened milk. Sourc: coloribus.com

Carnation condensed, sweetened milk. Source: coloribus.com

Instead, the perfume takes a mere 15 minutes to turn into the epitome of creaminess. Every note in Cuir Beluga is streaked through with something that, alternatively, makes me think of Carnation condensed milk, sweetened milk, ice-cream, or pure cream infused with vanilla and almonds. It’s perfectly balanced, luxuriously rich, but incredibly airy all at once. As the almond meringue and Play-Doh aspects of the heliotrope grow stronger, along with the subtle whiff of sweetened powder, I think back to Fragrantica’s description of heliotrope as an aroma that induces relaxation. I would love to wear Cuir Beluga to sleep and sprayed on my sheets, because it’s so incredibly comforting.

If only that gloriousness lasted…. Cuir Beluga starts as a very soft scent that hovers 2 inches above the skin, at best, in its most concentrated, opening minutes. With the equivalent of 2 sprays, it takes a mere 30 minutes for the perfume to drop to something that lies right above the skin. It slowly begins to soften even more, losing minute by minute what ever richness and weight that it had. My skin has problems with longevity but almost never with sillage, so I was taken aback by the speed with which Cuir Beluga started to vanish from the aether.

A mere 75 minutes in, Cuir Beluga is a complete skin scent on me, and I’ve tested it a few times. I suppose you can push that time frame more if you apply a lot, but I doubt even a massive amount could give you more than 2.5 hours at most before the perfume slips away into a gauzy whisper. Plus, given the cost of the perfume, do you really want to be dousing yourself with 5 or 6 (or more) sprays each time? Of course, there is a chance that it might merely be my skin, but given other reports elsewhere (that we will discuss in a minute), I doubt the problem is unique to me.

Source: totallylayouts.com

Source: totallylayouts.com

Despite the unobtrusiveness of the scent, Cuir Beluga is still very pretty. At the end of the second hour, the notes all blur into each other, leaving a general impression of creamy Play-Doh, sweetened almonds, milk, and Tonka vanilla powder. You may notice that I have not mentioned the word “leather” even once in my descriptions thus far. Well, for me, and on my skin, Cuir Beluga is a “leather” scent the way Queen Latifah is the Queen of England. The mere use of a word has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Near the end of the second hour, for a fleeting moment, I had the impression of sweetened, white, leathered suede, but honestly, I’m pretty sure it was merely a figment of my imagination. In any event, that tiny whiff of “suede” vanished within minutes.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Cuir Beluga is a very simple, uncomplicated, linear scent on my skin. It never changes in any substantial way, except to become even more discreet and harder to detect. About 3.5 hours into its development, it is the merest gauziest trace of heliotrope Play-Doh and vanilla on my skin. It’s far too thin and translucent to be creamy in the same way that it once was. In the same way, it’s too sheer to even come across as heavily powdered in the usual Guerlain way. Both elements are there in the most muted, muffled way imaginable, but Cuir Beluga is largely a vanilla and heliotrope scent on my skin, then just vanilla with some powder. In its final moments, the perfume was merely a blur of sweetened powder. All in all, Cuir Beluga lasted just over 9.25 hours with two sprays, and just under 8 hours with one.

The most important of all perfume critics, Luca Turin, doesn’t seem to think much of Cuir Beluga. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he categorizes Cuir Beluga as a “powdery amber,” and spends a good portion of his three-star review talking about how Guerlain used the L’Art et La Matiere collection to finally acknowledge the impact of niche perfumery — primarily and specifically of Serge Lutens. (He more or less implies that Guerlain flat-out copied Lutens “in the structure of the fragrances, their cod-poetic names, and the tall rectangular bottle.”) When he does talk about the actual fragrance, Luca Turin doesn’t seem very enthused, and he certainly didn’t consider Cuir Beluga to be a leather scent:

Cuir Beluga’s name, with its suggestion of large sofas and small portions of caviar, is no doubt intended to flatter a French fondness for naff luxury. The fragrance is basically a light, heliotropin vanillic amber with a touch of floral green notes in the heart and a smidgeon of suede. It has a pleasant color and texture, and no discernible shape at all.

Almond marzipan treats via parentedge.in

Almond marzipan treats via parentedge.in

I agree with him on almost all of it, but I like the scent significantly more than he does. At least, I do until I remember the price. $250 for an uncomplicated, linear, simplistic Play-Doh, vanilla scent that becomes incredibly hard to detect in a short amount of time seems a bit like Rolls Royce prices for the most souped-up, luxurious, opulent Honda around.

I’m not the only person who had some problems with Cuir Beluga’s sillage. On Fragrantica, one person writes:

I love this pretty scent, but it is the quietest of skin scents on me. I’d have to douse myself in it to be able to smell it, which is a disappointment.

Quite a few others talk about something similar. Of course, there are people who adore discreet, wholly unobtrusive fragrances, but I think the majority of them would like to be able to smell their perfume even moderately if they are paying as much as $250 for it.

Putting aside the wispiness of Cuir Beluga, it seems much beloved by those who have tried it, though the majority of its fans seem to be women. There are some critics, however, and a number of men seem to struggle with the fragrance’s sweetness, lack of leather, or its simplicity. Here are a range of opinions:

  • Cuir Beluga is not a leather perfume; nor is it particularly sexy or exciting. It smells to me of tapioca custard, i.e. a fairly simple, cozy scent. There are plenty of other, far less pricey, cozy fragrances out there.
  • Extremely sweet. A vanilla invasion for the nose. Powdery, and floral as well. Don’t see my self wearing this alone, maybe mixed. This to me will fit a woman better. Great quality.
  • I love leather perfumes, that slightly animal and sensual vibe a good leather perfume has, but this is much more soft and in the line of Daim Blond and Cuir de Lancome. Not leather but suede. It’s so elegant, and for a vanilla perfume not really gourmand or extremely sweet. Very wearable for many occasions. [¶] Sadly, sillage was very weak on me and therefor I’d think I’d prefer the more daring SDV or the powderpuffy Tonka Imperial over this. But she’s really interesting and really something to try if you like understated chique yet comforting scents.
  • I feel a velvety aurea, comfortable, looks leather with caramel, amber acts that way, blended with vanilla, I feel in a Rolls Royce in the streets of Monaco, eating a caramel trifle. [¶] Rich, important and compelling for all these aspects, Guerlain as always sensational.
  • This is my Shalimar! It is classic, refined and rich in every sense of the word. A decadent feast of powdery vanilla with the subtle essence of leather in the background. I find myself craving this scent. It is almost intimidating how elegant it is to begin with, but then it softens and becomes a beautiful comforting smell that I liken to someone of distinguished esteem. It smells wealthy without the pretentiousness.
  •  I agree that this has a wonderful vintage feel and where Shalimar for me is unwearable (Oh the horror!!!), this works. As soon as I sprayed it I immediately thought even if my bottle didn’t have a label this is so absolutely recognizable as Guerlain you would know what house created this scent. For me, as with some other Guerlain scents, this one needed 15 minutes to relax a bit. As is typical with Guerlain, this scent is all about powdery vanilla leather. If you love Guerlain and its beloved Shalimar this is sure to move you. I know I always rave about Guerlain (what can I say…I’m a fan) but this scent is blended so beautifully resulting in this rich powdery soft vanilla.

I found Cuir Beluga to be too gourmand, simplistic, and sweet to really be akin to Shalimar, at least vintage Shalimar with all its complexity and its strong backbone of leather and smoke. However, The Non-Blonde found a similarity in the classical feel or style of the two scents. In a 2010 review, she writes:

Guerlain and perfumer Olivier Polge didn’t take much of a risk in creating Cuir Beluga, but I’m not complaining. Compared to so many of the other Guerlain releases of the last five or ten years, Cuir Beluga is as close to the classics as one can get nowadays. More Shalimar than Mitsouko, this is not a difficult perfume in any way, and the large doses of very sweet vanilla make it go down easily for just about anyone (other than vanilla haters, but if you’re one, chances are that Guerlain is not really your thing to begin with).

What little drama we get in this perfume comes from the smooth leather. Some smell suede and compare Cuir Beluga to Daim Blond, but I don’t agree. To my nose it’s the finest most luxurious leather you can find. I have a pair of tall Jimmy Choo boots that feels this soft and timeless. It’s something that could have existed 50 years ago and has both an air of mystery and a determined backbone, despite the softness and the obvious sex appeal. I love touching and smelling my boots (us scentheads tend to shove our schnozes into the weirdest things and places) as it gives me a similar thrill to experiencing Cuir Beluga. I just wish the leather note in the perfume would have lasted longer before it becomes all vanilla, all the time.

Even if the leather note didn’t last long on her skin, she obviously experienced a lot more of it than I did. On me, the leather was nonexistent, and I suspect the suede was a figment of my imagination. I didn’t mind, though, because I loved my marzipan-almond meringue and vanilla cream, and found it delectable while it lasted. I would absolutely wear Cuir Beluga to bed, if I didn’t have to spend $250 for about 30 minutes of true, undiluted gloriousness.

Obviously, skin chemistry is going to make a difference in terms of how Cuir Beluga’s sillage, sweetness, “leather,” and powder manifest themselves on your skin. Given the perfume’s cost, I would recommend more than ever for you to test it first or order a sample. However, I must emphasize that, if you go into Cuir Beluga expecting a true leather scent, you will probably be disappointed. This is a primarily a gourmand fragrance with sweetness, powder, and vanilla. It also skews quite feminine in my opinion.

I think Cuir Beluga is very over-priced for what it is, but cost is a subjective determination and, in the case of this particular Guerlain at least, there is the quality and luxuriousness to back it up. In short, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, you may want to take a spoonful of sugar to make the price easier to swallow, as you wrap yourself in the pillowy, cashmere softness of Play-Doh, almond marzipan, and powdered vanilla.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that costs $250 or €185 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its U.S. and International website, but Guerlain doesn’t sell the fragrance online except on its French Guerlain website where it is priced at €185. I don’t know if they ship to the rest of Europe. In the U.S.: Cuir Beluga is available on the NordstromNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is actually available in the other shops themselves as a general rule.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Cuir Beluga at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for the U.K. price, I read that, back in 2011, this Guerlain collection retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now, but it must be much more. In France, Cuir Beluga is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Cuir Beluga a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Tonka Imperiale

There is a house in the suburbs, virtually indistinguishable from its neighbors, and merely one more in a line of perfectly square, pretty boxes with perfectly trimmed lawns on a perfectly pleasant, quiet street. It’s not large enough to be a true McMansion, but it certainly bears all the characteristics of that generic sameness. If you look closely, you can see that it’s made of the very finest building blocks, the very best that money can buy. Inside and out, however, it’s a sea of bland beigeness with interiors that are awash with taupe, egg-shell, and cream as far as the eye can see. There is nary a whiff of anything strong in contrast; no pops of colour, no thick veins of black. The lack of edge or individual character carries through even to the house’s carpeting: thick, plush shag rugs in which you can sink your bare feet. It’s easy comfort without particular style, and always in unremarkable, unrelieved, suburban taupe.

Source: loan-help.org

Source: loan-help.org

Tonka Imperiale from Guerlain is a beige house in the suburbs for me. It’s well-appointed and well-made, but a sea of bland, characterless, generic taupe as far as the eye can see. And I despise taupe with a violent passion. I’m sure it’s a colour that can be elegant in some interior decorating, and there are probably people on whom the colour looks good in clothing, but, personally, I would like to stab taupe in the eye with a large chef’s knife. And, for me, when I wear Tonka Imperiale, all I see is that bland colour. I know a lot of my friends will undoubtedly be upset with this review as they love the fragrance. To them, I can only apologise. I know Tonka Imperiale is a luxuriously made creation that probably encapsulates elegant comfort. I’m sure it’s wonderful on all of you. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I think is particularly special for its high price.   

Guerlain Tonka ImperialeTonka Imperiale is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.”

Tonka Imperiale is the seventh fragrance in the collection, and was released in 2010. Like all its siblings, it was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumery, Thierry Wasser. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “woody oriental” and write:

AN ASTONISHING CONSTRUCTION THAT BLOWS HOT AND COLD

With Tonka Impériale, Thierry Wasser has created a woody oriental composed around one of Guerlain’s star ingredients,the tonka bean. It has to be said that this precious seed, one of the cult components of the Guerlinade, is particularly dear to the House.

Tonka Impériale is well-named: a subtle blend of balmy scents, rich in contrasting facets, with accents of honey, gingerbread, almond, hay and tobacco. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans

The notes for the perfume, as compiled from Guerlain and Fragrantica, are:

Top notes: bergamot, butter almond, white honey, and rosemary.

Heart notes: jasmine, tonka beans and light tobacco. Bottom notes: incense, cedar wood, pine.

Depending on treatment, tonka beans can smell of vanilla, hay (coumarin), or even bittersweet almonds. And it is the latter which dominates the opening of Tonka Imperiale on my skin, thanks to the supplemental effects of the almond butter. The perfume begins with a burst of the white nuts, first bitter and raw, then quickly infused with sweetness. There is a honeyed quality underlying the note, but it’s light, not thick, yellow, or molten. It suits the description of “white honey” given by Fragrantica, because this feels quite translucent. Quickly, a subtle herbal element breezes through, followed by an amorphous woody note that isn’t immediately distinguishable. Tobacco lurks underneath, feeling pale, blonde and sweet, like leaves sitting in the sun. Traces of sweetened hay and the faintest speck of bergamot are the final touches that dot the landscape.

Source: donnamarie113 on Deviantart.com

Source: donnamarie113 on Deviantart.com

The primary bouquet, however, is of almonds and vanilla. The almond note is so concentrated, it’s more akin to the distilled essence that one uses in baking. The vanilla is rich and sweet, but it’s airy instead of custardy, more pale and white in visual hue. It’s also subtly backed by sweetened vanillic powder. It’s the famous Guerlainade, Guerlain’s signature note, which is placed front and center, right at the top, rather than appearing, as it traditionally does, at the very end in the perfume’s drydown. Tonka Imperiale is a very simple fragrance at its core: bitter, honeyed, sweet almonds with vanilla. It feels a lot like crème anglaise, only this one includes almond concentrate.    

Eventually, other notes appear to dance at the edges. In the first hour, there are minute, minuscule traces of woodiness. It’s generic, beige and abstract in large part, though if you really, really focus, you can perhaps persuade yourself that you can detect the hazy, faint edges of cedar. The real dryness in the scent comes from the tobacco which has quietly filled the base, seeping up to subtly impact the vanilla-almond combination at the top. Slowly, the bergamot becomes a little more noticeable, but like a number of things in this scent, it is restrained, and muted. By the end of the second hour, jasmine and incense suddenly pop up on the periphery. Both are flickers that are barely imperceptible initially. In fact, on my skin, it takes almost six hours for the incense to be noticeable in any substantial way.

Until that point, Tonka Imperiale is primarily an almond-vanilla scent atop an abstract, amorphous woody base that is lightly infused with tobacco and smoke. The Guerlainade powder, the jasmine and the other notes register in pale, light, subtle hues. It’s all effortless, easy, extremely well-blended, and swirls around you like a very expensive, soft, airy cloud. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s perfectly pleasant. To me, it seems simplistic and dull, but I can see how it might be a comfortable, easy, cozy scent for some, especially those who love a gourmand sweetnes in their fragrances.

Source: news.com.au

Source: news.com.au

Still, I can’t help but visual a house in the suburbs, though not one excessive or large enough to be a true McMansion. Tonka Imperiale is not chic, cool, or hip enough to be an apartment in the city; it’s certainly not a loft in Soho or a penthouse decorated in sleek black, silver, and modern edges. It’s also not large, opulent, or over-the-top enough like an Amouage Ubar to be a massive estate with a palatial mansion out in the country. It’s merely a comfortable, unremarkable, pretty, well-built house in the suburbs awash in taupe and beige.

The unrelieved blandness never changes. At the 4.5 hour mark, the sillage drops, and Tonka Imperiale is now a skin scent. The almond has now fallen behind the honey, jasmine and vanilla, though it still precedes the woody notes that are in the base. It’s the same story with the tobacco. As a whole, and if I’m being charitable, Tonka Imperiale is an interesting mix of sweetness with dryness, I suppose. By the start of the seventh hour, the fragrance is Guerlainade vanillic powder with a faint whisper of almonds and honey, and sits atop with some smoky incense, though the latter is so sheer, gauzy, and thin, it’s hardly a robust foundation. In its final hours, Tonka Imperiale is merely Guerlainade with some dryness. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 11 hours, with moderate to soft sillage throughout.

Taupe shag carpeting. Source: stockphotopro.com

Taupe shag carpeting. Source: stockphotopro.com

Tonka Imperiale is intentionally meant to pay homage to a particular note, so I can’t fault it for focusing so heavily on the tonka, right down to its occasional almond-like facets. The fragrance does what it sets out to do, and does so in the typical Guerlain way. I’m not blaming it for that. I do blame it, however, for being such unrelieved blandness for $250. For that amount, it would be nice to have some character, some contrasting edge to counter the dull monotony of a sea of taupe and beige. Supposedly, the incense is meant to be that edge. If they say so. Perhaps I’m merely unlucky with my skin.

Or, perhaps, Tonka Imperiale is exactly the way it’s supposed to be: a plush, simple, comforting, gourmand scent dominated by vanillic tonka, almonds and Guerlainade, with an incredibly restrained dose of tobacco and incense. So restrained, in fact, that neither of those minor supporting players can possibly counter the two main, gourmand players on center stage. Fine. But Guerlain’s headlong descent into simplistic and/or gourmand scents at an extremely high price tag continues to alienate me. Tonka Imperiale would be a great comfort scent at about $100, though I personally still wouldn’t go near it due to all that taupe beigeness. But $250? For a plush, beige shag rug? No, thank you. Not for me.

Others, however, don’t share my issues. As noted earlier, I have a number of friends who love Tonka Imperiale so much, they’ve bought full bottles of it. On Fragrantica, there are raves about how wonderful the fragrance is, and how it is a luxurious “masterpiece.” To wit, one comment calling it “[F]rench romantic ART,” and saying: “Oh my god …..what is this scent…luxury…elegant…charismatic…sweet…sensual…very sexy for me.” Others, however, think Tonka Imperiale is vastly over-priced, with a number finding the fragrance’s opening to be extremely similar to Mugler‘s Pure Havane. One person had an issue with Tonka Imperiale’s drydown, comparing it to Calvin Klein‘s Obsession, her “worst nightmare.” On my skin, Tonka Imperiale’s drydown wasn’t similar to Obsession at all, and I can’t compare it to Pure Havane’s opening, as I’ve never tried it. All I can say is that those of you who have problems with Guerlainade, and who continuously have it turn into sour baby powder on your skin may want to stay away from a fragrance that showcases the brand’s tonka signature.

The bottom line is this: if you love modern Guerlain fragrances — with all that that entails, for good or for bad — and if you adore cozy gourmands, then you may want to give Tonka Imperiale a sniff. You will have plenty of company in Tonka Imperiale’s vast fan club. If, however, you’re looking for a fragrance with some edge, character, or distinctive flair for your $250, you may want to look elsewhere. It’s an unrelieved sea of beige and taupe in the suburbs. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tonka Imperiale is an eau de parfum that costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Tonka Imperiale is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Tonka Imperiale at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for price, I read that, back in 2011, Tonka Imperiale retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Tonka Imperiale a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Guerlain Angelique Noire: A House of Mirrors

Angelique Noire from Guerlain is unusual. It takes the classic Guerlain signature, up-ends it, and then sticks it in a house of mirrors. You see constant reflections of past Guerlain perfumes beckoning to you through a long hallway, but the reflections are changed, faintly distorted, sweetened, and modernized.

House of Mirrors.Source: The Consumerist Blog.

House of Mirrors.
Source: The Consumerist Blog.

It’s not only that Angelique Noire takes a gourmand approach to past classics, but also the fact that the famous Guerlain signature at the base end of the fragrance — the Guerlainade — has been brought out at the very start of the fragrance. Furthermore, it has been twisted around. It’s been made more concentrated, more herbal, bitter and green. It’s as though Guerlain decided to play with its usual pyramid of notes with a bit of a wink and a tongue-in-cheek grin. That cheeky sense of humour also extends to the name since Angelique Noire is the furthest thing possible from a “noir” perfume! (If anything, it evokes creamy vanilla and beige, with dashes of green and brown.) At all times, however, it is an extremely rich, elevated take on the modern fad for gourmand scents.

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of the Guerlain's flagship Paris boutique. Source: Interior Design.net

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of Guerlain’s flagship Paris boutique.
Source: Interior Design.net

Angelique Noire is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also:

a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners. Three famous noses were invited to work on the perfumes using the highest quality materials. The perfumes were launched in 2005.

Angelique NoireAngélique Noire is the third fragrance of the series, created by Daniela Andrièr. It was an attempt to reproduce the famous compositions of the house. Sweet and strong beginning with spices and piquant freshness of bergamot is mixing with milky bitterness of almond and vanilla notes. Unusual harmony of the fresh bergamot and sweet vanilla is a trademark of classical compositions of Guerlain. Spicy harshness of the beginning is contrasting creamy and sweet base which includes mildly spicy and sugary notes of angelica.

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as follows:

A DISCONCERTING HARMONY WITH A BEWITCHING VOLUPTUOUSNESS

Notwithstanding the humble appearance of its clusters of small flowers, angelica is thought to be an elixir promoting longevity. Guerlain elevates this understated raw material to noble rank. In Angélique Noire, the sincerity and freshness of the angelica find a luminous echo in the bergamot, before coming to fruition in the smooth, feminine sweetness of the vanilla. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

The notes for the perfume are as follows:

Top : Angelica seeds, pink berries, pear. 
Heart : jasmine sambac, caraway. 
Base : vanilla, angelica roots, cedar.
Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

To understand the perfume, you have to understand angelica itself. It’s a green plant with big white or yellow flowers, and is cultivated for its sweetly scented edible stems and roots. I’ve read that angelica is also known as “Wild Celery” because it shares a similar aroma to the vegetable. But other accounts describe no such thing. Some call its aroma sweetly spiced and honeyed, while others describe it as bitter and green. Wikipedia says that angelica has “a pervading aromatic odour” that differs from the rest of its cousins in the same plant family (fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil). “One old writer compares it to musk, others liken it to juniper.” In short, it’s pungent, green, brown, spicy, sweet, bitter and a whole host of contradictory things that make it extremely hard to describe to someone who hasn’t smelled it!

Angelica is the key to Angelique Noire because its different aspects run throughout every stage of the perfume. At times, it can be positively dizzying and overwhelming. In its opening seconds, I smell pear, bitter green, powdered vanilla, some sort of root-y woody note and then pink-peppered florals. The florals are hard to pinpoint at this stage and they are very subtle, as is the hint of cedar dancing around the edges. And then, the angelica arrives on the scene. The note is huge, monstrously big, bitter, green and yet, faintly earthy and woody brown at the same time. It well-nigh blows my head off and I keep my arm at a distance. Waves of angelica pulsate out at me, along with that famous Guerlain signature, the Guerlainade, that underlies all their fragrances at the very base and final hours. Only here, it’s Guerlainade on steroids and amped up a thousand degrees.

Source: US Forest Service

Source: US Forest Service

I recoil faintly from the combined intensity of the super-saturated powdered vanilla and the bitter, pungent, almost medicinal herb-y green of the angelica. It’s an incredibly odd twist to make the Guerlainade front and center, not to mention the added element of the angelica. I have an impression of an English meadow in Spring — all white (vanilla and angelica blossoms) and green (sweet, ripe Anjou pears and fruits). But, looming in the corner, its shadow getting larger and larger, is the dark green of bitter angelica stems and the brown of the more earthy root.

Source: TheTorchOnline.com

Source: TheTorchOnline.com

As the minutes progress, the scent becomes more powdery and sweet. And, to my disbelief, the angelica seems become even stronger! The combination as a whole feels like King Kong on the Empire State Building, swiping away planes in the sky as if they were gnats. As someone on Fragrantica noted, it “comes at you like a knife blade.” The whole thing is one enormous dichotomy and I will be frank, it was a bloody difficult thirty minutes the very first time I tried it! The second and third time, however, I was prepared for the brutal onslaught — and I think that made all the difference. I could appreciate the unusual, original twist on both the Guerlainade and on vanilla itself. I could smell the layers and the complexity, and I found them somewhat intriguing.

It’s an opening which seems to result in very split opinions: many adore it and its uniqueness, lamenting when it fades into something more manageable; others feel utterly blown away by it (and not in a good way). But one thing is certain: it’s unusual, different, creative and a bit provocative. You merely have to brace yourself for that very initial exposure, and give it more than one shot!

Vanilla Custard.Source: Sacchef's Blog.

Vanilla Custard.
Source: Sacchef’s Blog.

Once you’re over that initial hurdle, Angelique Noire mellows into a very different fragrance. The angelica recedes, and is no longer bitter or bullying but, instead, almost candied. The vanilla note starts to become much more prominent, as does that of sweet, ripe Anjou pears. But it is the vanilla which is interesting. At times in the first 90 minutes, it almost replicates a herbed vanilla cupcake! For the most part, however, it’s much creamier than any cupcake. It’s more like a smooth, rich vanilla custard, or like sweetened Carnation condensed milk.

Bergamot soap.Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Then, the truly lovely part begins. Angelique Noire takes on notes of bergamot (as in Early Grey tea) and almonds. I love almond scents, and find them endlessly comforting and soothing. Here, it is rich, not faint or milky — but it’s not strong or constant enough for my liking. It waltzes with the much stronger Earl Grey, sometimes apparent, sometimes flickering just out of sight. It’s a bit frustrating for one who adores both notes, and I wish they were stronger to alleviate the increasing sweetness of the perfume.

Soon, Jasmine Sambac joins the party. It is a muskier, richer, almost earthier version of the flower. The combination of the jasmine sambac, the musk undertones, and the very honeyed, custard-like vanilla now emanating from Angelique Noire strongly evokes the base of Guerlain’s L’Instant. I have a bottle of the eau de parfum from 2006, and the similarities are striking at times. But, like a long hall of mirrors, the evocation of other Guerlain perfumes does not stop there. Shalimar Eau Légère is another perfume that people think it resembles, though Angelique Noire is richer, in my opinion. And, then, there are those who wonder if Angelique Noire will become the new Shalimar, or a Shalimar for the modern era with its leanings towards greater sweetness and simplicity. I think that goes too far! (Nothing so gourmand can, or should, ever overtake a great, complex classic like Shalimar.)

In its final hours, Angelique Noire turns into spiced sugar, bergamot and vanilla. There really isn’t a lot to say beyond that. It’s not powdery like the usual Guerlainade accord, probably because all the powder was loaded upfront. There are traces of the angelica in a candied form in the sugar, but they are subtle. There are also minute traces of the musk that continue to linger on the skin.

All in all, Angelique Noire lasted just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On Fragrantica, many report it lasting the entire day. The sillage was enormous in the first hour — at times, a too enormous for my liking, given that opening. Afterwards, it had heavy to good projection, becoming close to the skin only about four hours in.

I was lucky to obtain my sample from a lovely, very generous friend who went to the Guerlain boutique, sniffed everything, became mesmerized by Angelique Noire, and couldn’t help buying a bottle right there and then! Given that it costs $250, that is real love indeed. But, ultimately, Angelique Noire is not for me. For one thing, I’m starting to wonder if angelica may be one of my no-no ingredients. For another, I am not generally drawn to gourmand perfumes. When I fall for a very sweet scent, it comes with so much spice and dryness that it isn’t a true dessert fragrance. For me, Angelique Noire is far too sweet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its well-blended, high quality, unusual aspects.

Others appreciate it, too. The “seductive” scent is much-loved on Fragrantica and elsewhere. If you’re tempted, but also a bit alarmed by my descriptions of the angelica, then you may want to pay heed to the comments of “Alfiecronin” who wrote on Fragrantica:

Give this fragrance a second (or third) chance! It is worth it. The first whiff brings a blast of angelica flower–very strong. Admittedly, this is not the best part of the composition. Wait 20 minutes and you will discover a delicious vanilla, delicately mixed with floral notes that lasts and lasts. Many times I have watched others spray, whiff, jump back and declare, “I don’t like this!” And then come back an hour later and say that this is just wonderful, what is it called? In my opinion, one of only 2 in the L ‘Art et la Matière collection worth buying for a woman, the other being Cruel Gardenia.

There is no doubt that Angelique Noire is a very sophisticated interpretation of vanilla. It is infinitely wearable, rich, very unisex, and a very creative entry in the highly saturated gourmand field. If you like sweet vanilla scents, you may want to give Angelique Noire a try. Or two. Or three….

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Angelique Noire costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIn the US, it is also available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman website. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give Angelique Noir a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.