An announcement is expected to be made by parent house, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, either today or Monday.
Guerlain, 65, is the last family member to exit the storied 174-year-old perfume company. As the great-great grandson of the founder, Guerlain was the creative force behind the company’s fragrance development and therefore a vital link with its historic past. He started working there 47 years ago.
Guerlain, who could not be reached for comment at presstime Thursday, stepped down as master perfumer on Wednesday in order to pursue other interests.
“He wants to do other things,” said a company spokeswoman, explaining that Guerlain is writing a book called “Carnet de Voyage,” or travel notebook, and plans to have it published this year.
“It’s a decision we’ve made together over some time,” said Thibault Ponroy, president of Guerlain worldwide.
Ponroy added that Guerlain will not sever his ties completely with the fragrance house but will remain an adviser for future fragrances.
During his tenure at the firm, he created more than 60 scents for Guerlain, including Samsara, Eau de Guerlain, Mahora, Belle Epoque, Nahema and Vetiver, and he introduced the Aqua Allegoria line of scents.
For many who speak of Guerlain, it’s his fragrances that have made a strong impression.
“Samsara and Habit Rouge mean a lot to me, as they were very present in my childhood,” said Juliette Rapinat-Freudiger, managing director at Escada Beaute Group. “They were the fragrances of my parents and family, they’re the fragrances of traditional French bourgeoisie. I grew up with Guerlain fragrances.”
“Nahema is a very special scent,” said Frederic Malle, the perfumer behind the French fragrance house Editions de Parfums. “It was one of the fragrances that announced the Eighties.”
A longtime force in the world of beauty, Guerlain’s retirement comes as a shock to some.
“I am surprised [he has retired],” said Christian Courtin, president of France’s Groupe Clarins. “I had the feeling that he would never quit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came back, it’s impossible for a man who loves fragrances so much not to be creative.”
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“[Guerlain] has always been able to be very very creative,” said Claude Saujet, international director at Marionnaud, France’s largest perfumery chain. “[Creative] yet always in line with the desire of the house of Guerlain in terms of excellence.”
Guerlain’s retirement is a double blow to Paris’s old-guard worlds of fashion and beauty following veteran couturier Yves Saint Laurent’s announcement earlier this week that he would bow out of the fashion industry.
“In a matter of a few days, one of the most creative people in the fashion industry retired and one of the most creative people in fragrance,” said Saujet. “It’s a sad start to the new year with two giants leaving for retirement.”
“[Retirement is] a process that is normal and inevitable in a family business owned by a group,” noted Ponroy. “It’s a page that turns naturally.”
LVMH took over the fiscal reigns of the Guerlain fragrance and cosmetics business in 1994 in exchange for about $343.5 million in Christian Dior shares. For the burgeoning LVMH luxury empire, the brand was a prestigious asset.
“I wanted to leave when LVMH took over the company because my cousins stupidly sold their shares and I thought I would never get on with the people at LVMH,” Guerlain told WWD in February 2001. “And then Monsieur [Bernard] Arnault called me one fine day after we launched Champs-Elysees and told me, ‘I hear you want to leave, but I would like you to be the keeper of the temple.”‘
Guerlain stayed on at the fragrance house and continued to concoct fragrances such as his recent scent trio, Aromaparfum.
Headquartered in Paris, Guerlain is described by LVMH as the oldest fragrance and cosmetics company in the world. A veritable bastion of French culture, the house’s scents are so revered that for many years, the fragrances were only available in Guerlain stores. The brand was also unusual in that it had in-house perfumers, such as Jean-Paul Guerlain, and produced its own scents, rather than calling on outside fragrance suppliers, which is usually done throughout the industry. Guerlain was proud of the fact that his company was one of only three that still makes its own fragrances.
Perhaps best known for its classic scent, Shalimar, introduced in 1925, the brand also has branched into skin care, with its Issima line, and makeup, with its Meteorites and Divinora lines. However, fragrance remains the cornerstone of the brand, accounting for about 70 percent of total business.
Guerlain’s career in the beauty industry may be coming to a close but, in true French style, it looks now that the work is over, the fun begins.
“He enjoys life, beautiful women, beautiful food and beautiful gardens,” said Clarins’s Courtin. “He is a man full of culture.”