GUERLAIN PUTS TIME IN A BOTTLE
Byline: Janet Ozzard in Paris, with contributions from Kerry Diamond in New York
PARIS — It’s not easy to put almost two centuries into one glass bottle, but the Guerlain family has had some experience in fragrance.
And for the brand’s latest project, Jean-Paul Guerlain, the patriarch and master perfumer of the fragrance dynasty, took a while to think about it.
During an interview June 11 — a few hours before he was attacked in his home by robbers — Guerlain sat in his office and described the process of making Guerlinade, the company’s newest scent since the debut of Champs-Elysees in 1996.
“It was more than a year in the making,” said Guerlain, who is recuperating from a gunshot wound to the leg received during the break-in. “I was trying to distill 200 years.”
Guerlain will make only 50,000 bottles of Guerlinade, for a global volume of $8.75 million at current exchange rates. Of that total, 3,500 bottles will be available in the U.S.
Guerlinade will be priced at $175 for a 1.7-oz. bottle and will be sold only at the eight Guerlain boutiques in France, including the flagship at 68 Champs-Elysees, June 27 until Oct. 1. Guerlinade then will be sold in selective distribution in Europe and in the U.S. at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and the Guerlain boutique at Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.
Guerlain learned about fragrances from his grandfather, legendary perfumer Jacques Guerlain, himself the grandson of the dynasty founder Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain, who started the company here in 1828. The flacon, with its narrow neck and round base, was inspired by a scent bottle Guerlain purchased in Kathmandu.
“It’s elegant, it’s a pleasure to touch,” he said. And the name, he said, is a family heirloom, in a way. “It refers to a certain group of notes, and even in the fragrance world, when perfumers want to do a certain kind of fragrance, they call it a Guerlinade,” he said.
The floral fragrance has top notes of bergamot; a heart of lilac, rose, iris and jasmine, and a powdery base with vanilla. Guerlain has no truck with unisex fragrances; while they might be popular, he believes in fragrance as a means of attraction and seduction. “There are sufficient [numbers of] feminine women that I think this will be a success,” he said.
Besides, Guerlinade doesn’t have to be a mass success, he said. “To say one perfume suits every woman is like saying one color suits every woman,” he added.
Guerlinade’s packaging is a retrospective of the family business history. The square box is decorated with watercolor sketches of the Guerlain factory in Paris, its first store near the Rue de la Paix and the imperial crest that it won in 1853 when Aime Guerlain, the founder’s son, created Eau de Cologne Imperiale for the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.
There is no advertising or marketing campaign in Europe, said Eric Henry, international marketing director for the house. Instead, as part of the anniversary, Guerlain installed a retrospective on the upper floors of the Champs-Elysees flagship and opened it with cocktail party for press and guests June 11.
In the U.S., advertising will be limited to the Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus catalogs. Jean-Paul Guerlain will make personal appearances at Bergdorf Goodman and at various Neiman Marcus stores throughout the country.
The exhibit here includes a re-creation of Jean-Paul Guerlain’s perfume organ with its old glass bottles bearing hand-written labels. In another room, there is a table bearing bowls full of raw ingredients such as rose petals, resin and oak moss. The final gallery contains elaborate dioramas illustrating Guerlain fragrances from the centuries such as L’Heure Bleu, Vol de Nuit and Eau de Cologne Imperiale.
The retrospective, called “170 Ans d’Amour du Parfum,” runs through Aug. 30.
The anniversary celebration doesn’t exclude fans of Guerlain’s men’s fragrances. A new men’s scent, Coriolan, named for the Roman general Coriolanus, will make its debut this October at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, the Guerlain boutique at Epcot and in three hotels: The Breakers in Palm Beach, Bellagio in Las Vegas and Loews South Beach in Miami, said Marjorie Wollan, president and chief executive officer of Guerlain Inc., during an interview at Guerlain headquarters in New York earlier this month.
Wollan would not comment on sales projections, but industry sources expect Coriolan to do between $10 million and $15 million in first-year U.S. retail sales.
The 1.7-oz. eau de toilette spray is $45 and a 3.4-oz. size is $65. The 3.4-oz. eau de toilette pour is $60 and the 3.4-oz. aftershave lotion is $45.
Coriolan has a top note of lemon tree leaves and bergamot; a spicy heart of coriander, nutmeg and ginger, and a base of oak moss, wood and everlasting flower. Wollan believes it will succeed as a unisex fragrance, similar to Guerlain’s Jicky. “Female buyers are asking us to put it on women’s counters,” she said.
The Coriolan bottle, designed by Robert Granai, the sculptor of the House of Guerlain, was inspired by an 18th-century powder horn and features a silver and copper-toned hinged stopper.
Wollan is confident both Coriolan and Guerlinade will find a following among fragrance devotees. “The name Guerlain holds such a fascination for people,” she said. “Whatever we seem to bring out does well.”