Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Guerlain - house of cards?

I find it quite difficult to write about anything Guerlain. So much has been written before, that for me, a bare novice, to add my tuppence worth seems almost sacrilegious. I mean, what could I possibly add that hasn't been said already? Then again, perfume is an art, and like any art, it garners both praise and criticism, from novice and expert alike, and so therefore I will comment accordingly. I was looking through some of my perfume notes the other day, which I am rapidly accumulating as I become more serious (I use this term loosely) about analysing and thinking about the perfumes I try, and I was surprised to discover that not only have I not reviewed a Guerlain perfume, I have not even tried one in at least three months. I then looked at some of my search engine histories and noticed that literally every day I have viewed some article or blog that has a Guerlain topic. So why this anomaly? Surely if I read so much about this venerable house, I would have at least sampled one of their extensive range within a 3-month period? Well, thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that despite the sheer weight of presence of Guerlain, its products are not quite as widely available as one would think. Ok, like anything, if you really search for it, you will find it, but to take me as an example: I live in Tunbridge Wells, an affluent west-Kent town, only 50 miles or so from London, but there is only one outlet for Guerlain, Hoopers department store. In London you will find the standard Guerlain range carried in most decent department stores, but (and please correct me if I am wrong, as I don't visit London very often anymore) the more exclusive and hard-to-find ones, for example the L'Art et la Matiere, are exclusive to Paris. I've also found that it is incredibly difficult to obtain samples of Guerlain. Most SA's locally and in London will happily dish out armfuls of the latest fruity floral but try asking for a Guerlain sample and see what happens. Nada, at least in my experience. 

I suppose this adds to the aura of exclusivity, but having said that, there seems to have been a push in recent years to "dumb-down" the brand, or at the very least, increase its distribution, but only among new releases. To give you an example, Boots is Britain's most successful chain of chemists, and carries a good range of mainstream and designer brands. They never carried Guerlain, but do carry Insolence and Homme. Is this Guerlain's strategy of trying to introduce the brand to younger consumers?

One thing I've wondered about for a long time is why some of the more famous Houses don't utilise the web better for marketing and distribution? Can they not see the huge potential? I suppose it is no coincidence that true niche and indie operations such as Andy Tauer, Neil Morris, Sonoma Scent Studio, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, etc have such good websites and excellent sampling programmes and customer service. They have had to utilise the internet to the hilt in order to gain new business. In my opinion, smaller bottle sizes are the way to go, particularly if you are trying to gain loyalty from perfumistas, as we generally don't want 200 ml of juice to last us for the next five years. We want to try lots and often. I wonder how much more successful the Chanel Exclusifs would be for example, if in addition to offering such ludicrous-sized bottles, they also allowed you to purchase a sample coffret of the entire range, or say 5 or 15 ml bottles? I'm sure they would move more product in the long run and ml for ml, they would still be making the same, if not better, margins. In the same vein, it would be fantastic if one could order Guerlain samples from their website, for the entire range, in every concentration and vintage. Yes, I know this is perhaps expecting a bit too much, but why not?

Anyway, moving on, I am not doing a full review of any Guerlain perfumes today, but I am wearing Homme on one wrist and L'Instant on the other. L'Instant receives a lot of praise on Basenotes and I must admit, in my opinion this is justified. I think it is a wonderful fragrance and a great example of how Guerlain could bridge the gap between the old and the new. This fragrance is bang up to date in terms of execution, texture and structure, yet there is something about it that is undeniably"Guerlain". It has it all. I think I might slightly prefer the intense version, but both the EDT and EDP versions are well worth trying. When I first tried Homme a couple of years ago I was not impressed. It felt weak, incoherent and I couldn't get my head around it. Having tried it a few times now, I am eating my words, as it is actually not that bad. I don't think it is stunning or that original, but there is far worse out there in mainstream men's perfumery. I think my issue with Homme was more about longevity. It didn't last at all and my skin just ate it up. However, trying it now, it seems to have far greater presence - perhaps its a skin chemistry or hormonal thing, who knows. 

At the time of writing this, I have ordered some L'art et la Matiere samples (and some of the Chanel Exclusifs) from The Perfumed Court, so I will finally get a chance to try some more of the less readily-available of these lines and I am looking forward to finding out what they are like.


  1. I'm not a Guerlain fan - but I do try them pretty regularly to see if my nose will come round to them. I don't think I'll every really love anything from the house of Guerlain - but I can appreciate their quality.

    If you want to do any sample swaps - let me know!

  2. Hi, nice to hear from a local blogger (well at least we're on the same Island ;-) )

    I'm never quite sure about Guerlain, perhaps we expect too much of them considering their history? If you like, email me a list of samples you're interested in and I'll see if I have any of them. My collection is growing rapidly, but recently budget constraints have put the brakes on the expansion!



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