Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: Guerlain - Idylle, And Why We Should Stop Wasser-Bashing

Consider Idylle, presuming that numerous Odiferess readers are Guerlain devotees, how many of you actually know what it smells like or own a bottle?

Some time ago I chatted to a Sales Assistant in Selfridges who used to work for Guerlain. We were occupied sniffing niche roses together when she announced that she thought there were none comparable to the beauty of Idylle. Somehow I’d never smelt it despite about 20% of my wardrobe being composed of Guerlain scents.

Why do we ignore this scent?

It could be due to the phenomenon of Wasser-bashing. When Thiery Wasser succeeded Jean Paul Guerlain as In-House Perfumer at Guerlain, he embraced on the terrifying prospect of directing the output of the world’s most revered historic fragrance house. How do you possibly create the next Shalimar, Jicky, Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, the fragrances that signify the archetype in a market of stereotypical genre replications and adaptations? Add to this the 1990s acquisition of the brand by LMVH (Luis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) that I suspect necessitated a whopping great output of scents, and we have a very pressurised career. I can’t imagine that LMVH would relish a potentially uncommercial quirky scent that might be a flop, potentially meaning that the innovation of the avante-guarde in line with scents such as Vol De Nuit or Apres L’ Ondee would be undesirable unless marketed as an ‘exclusif’ and priced up accordingly.

Wasser perfects the sniff and pout technique

And then tells someone to do something expressively..

That said, Wasser created a superbly quirky scent in his Acqua Allegoria Flora Nymphea. The name possesses connotations of fairies, watercolour washes and girly stuff, not very appealing to me, the owner of a pair of Doc Martens and a tool box. But the scent! Oh my.. this is a gargantuan wodge of hardcore feral floral sex, perhaps as stonkingly indolic as Fracas (Robert Piguet) or Tuberuese Criminelle (Serge Lutens). I did not expect to be challenged to my floral limit by a scent containing the word Nymph. Wearing it requires one of those ‘safe’ words used by people who practice S&M. I’ve reached my boundary, I need out!

He’s clearly not sitting on the ‘safe’ bench, despite the restrictions of the parent company.
I admit to having developed a whopping great crush on Monsieur Wasser. It’s partly because of his voice, Swiss born, his accented French has a peculiar sweetness a little like when Bjork speaks English with a haywire intonation. Add to this that he looks damn fine in a well cut suit and we have an enigmatic handsome man.

I’m waffling.

Back to my point. Idylle is an exercise in elegance and simplicity. Released at a time when the perfume world was churning out increasingly lurid exercises in fruity patchoulis, and amber orientals were rising to niche domination, Idylle quietly arrived shouting not very much at all.

For his first large mainstream release within Guerlain, Wasser chose to encompass the history of French perfumery in a bottle. There was however no nod to the Guerlain house style, no powdery iris, no tonka bean and vanilla sweetness, simply the great ‘trilogy’ of Frenchness – rose, jasmine and lily of the valley. With just a little patchouli and musk to earth the composition, Idylle is a thoroughly minimalist chypre.

Of course, in the employ of Guerlain, Wasser could draw on the finest ingredients. Heady Bulgarian roses hand picked at dawn and (in a later ‘Duet’ Flanker) an unusually fruity jasmine sourced from a resurrected plantation in Calabria, meant that simple could be exquisite.
Wasser checks out the rose crop (during my fantasy holiday)

The first appearance of Idylle took the form of an EDP which was followed a year later by an EDT, my favourite of the two formulations. Whilst the EDP possesses the greatest depth of grand patchouli rose, the EDT’s top notes radiate an almighty great whoosh of lilac and lily of the valley. It does not last very long, but that gives me an excuse to spray repeatedly, relishing my hit of intense green florality. Both share a similar heart with the Bulgarian rose sitting majestically dominant. And that’s all it is. Essentially a very good floral chypre with no ringing bells or dancing bears.

As perfume lovers we often yearn to smell the unique, that which smells unlike any other fragrance we’ve encountered before. Idylle doesn’t offer this experience, perhaps that’s why it lacks a vocal following amongst the online perfume community? What it does do however, is present a recognisably ‘French’ composition, an exercise in how to convert classical ingredients into an elegantly understated wonder. As the perfume industry churns out increasingly high numbers of new scents, with superstar perfumers ‘creating’ at record speed, there feels like nowhere else to go in terms of innovation. I am thankful that Monsieur Wasser rejected the notion of a ‘concept’ scent and pared his perfume back to a sumptuous simplicity.

If you would to know more about Wasser’s rise to Guerlain head-honcho (or just want to feast your eyes on him whilst glugging gin and crisps on the sofa), the BBC’s marvelous 3 part documentary on the perfume industry is still available on Youtube. If you input Guerlain + BBC + perfume you should find it.

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  1. I was reminiscing about Idylle the other day because it is one I misjudged on first sniff - I thought it was a generic fruity floral but when I came back to it a second time there was this lovely rosy musk accord that was in another league / class, and I haven't looked back. Can't find my sample of it, mind! I do have to disagree with your on Wasser's looks. He is a bit too stolid and not noticeably handsome at all to my mind. He is tall though, with a physique that my mother might have described as 'well put together'. Now I realise I need to try Flora Nymphea...;)

  2. He is very physically 'well put together' indeed! Your mum would have been correct. I don't really get fruit in the EDT, though my Duet flanker (the jasmine lilas one) does have a weirdly fruity opening. I'm glad I'm hearing back some love for this scent, in fact I might go and drench myself in it post shower.
    Vanessa, we should get together for some more sniffing soon. I'm sure we have both amassed many new lovelies since the 'ladies in the pub' event.

  3. Since I wasn't a Guerlain fan, I was considering a bottle of Idylle for my (then relatively small) collection. But then Amouage, Serge Lutens, etc. happened to me ; -) But I still liked the perfume.

    1. There are too many perfumes in the world! The opportunities to buy increase so much when you blog, don't you find? With me, my taste expanded so much with testing scents that I would not normally seek out (florals this year), that I find I am tempted to buy almost constantly. I'm glad I bought this little bottle though. I find it a great gentle comfort on the mornings when I don't feel like wearing something with a gargantuan personality.

  4. Lovely! Now I need to get this under my nose. So many scents, so little time.

    I certainly do find that there is an avid need to constantly find the new, the utterly unique, the unsmelled, in the niche/indie/fragrance/blogger/perfumista world. It's too much, almost. It can make it difficult to appreciate what we already have and love. So silly.

    Too many choices can truly be disadvantageous at times.