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· Perfume Notes: Guerlain L'Heure Bleue

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Perfume Notes: Guerlain L'Heure Bleue
by Dain

Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise (1890).

It's a long way from Jo Malone Orange Blossom to L'Heure Bleue, which is so far removed from the legibility and simplicity of a soliflore that it was a couple of years before my nose could acquire any semblance of coherence. Because L'Heure Bleue, abstraction in a very classical style, depends not on any single ingredient for its effect but, seemingly, all of them.

This variegated bouquet with a massive floral arrangement, and yet each is so fully articulated, that L'Heure Bleue is nothing less than a composite perfume—a story within a story within a story. On one level, is the salty-but powdery fussiness of rose, reinforced by the equally Victorian-minded violet. At another, the spicy intensity of carnation, reinforced by cloves and the dark, licorice-like taint of anise, no doubt responsible for that medicinal quality, itself reinforced by the native mustiness of Guerlinade, that turns away so many modern consumers of perfume. Then, there is the curvaceous heft of tuberose, reinforced by the lush indoles of neroli and jasmine, which diverts L'Heure Bleue away from the prim ethereality of its close relation Après L'Ondée. Above it all, rising in crescendo, is the golden sweetness of heliotropin, rich as butter and thick as honey, which serves as a nexus between the composition's myriad convolutions. Though long predating the term "gourmand", the tendency towards edibility is not the least bit subtle, and in fact only intensifies with the vanillic drydown. Perhaps only Shalimar is more grand, more luscious, more worldly, more confident; always laughing at the dark, when L'Heure Bleue would be content with silence.

While at first glance L'Heure Bleue is a gorgeous, larger-than-life confection, one cannot deny its melancholic mythos. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a perfume that more vividly trails in its wake the sense of emotional complication. This is not a perfume you might wear "for a good time"; it doesn't look kindly on those who take liberties. The reverence paid to Jacques Guerlain (much deserved) is perhaps because of the aura of intimacy his perfumes create—major drama in small rooms—but in L'Heure Bleue is concentrated to such a degree it tends towards claustrophobia. This is not an easy perfume to live with, especially in consideration of contemporary tastes, and yet, L'Heure Bleue is just utterly bewitching, like those lines of Byron: "She walks in beauty like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies/ And all that's best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and her eyes."

Oddly enough, this blooms beautifully in the heat; it becomes too immense in winter, downright cloying for my taste. Also, this review is for the EDP from 2001. I have heard amiss of the current formulations, and have never tried the parfum. If L'Heure Bleue is too dated or not dated enough (i.e. vintage) for you, Frédéric Malle's Une Fleur de Cassie often strikes me as a modern take on this floral/edible theme (heliotropin again, but no anise), with its own strange quirks.

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3/10/2009 [2]

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