Inside La Maison Guerlain

Stepping into 68 Champs Elysees, the official residence of Guerlain, feeling the exquisite curves of baccarat crystal bottles, tracing the famous bee emblem with my fingers and inhaling the air soaked in flowers, spices and woods was something so –familiar yet ethereal!

Can you fall in love with someone’s soul before you touch him/her? That strong invisible connection that inspires and energizes despite the distance! Imagine when distances collapse and you get to feel them in your bones through all the senses. This is how I felt walking into the gilded interiors of Guerlain House. Twelve years ago I was smitten by the utterly elegant and sophisticated stall of this brand at a trade exhibition at Cannes. I was besotted by this precious jar that had little multi-coloured beads inspired by a powder compact belonging to Catherine de Medici. Météorites. Never before was loose powder presented in the form of pearls which rolled at the stroke of a brush, to release an incredibly lightweight perfecting coverage.

Pronounced as ‘Gur Lahn’, it housed some of the most breathtaking make-up, not just in terms of efficacy but also the packaging. The fragrances were different from the designer brands. My then-untrained nose couldn’t identify that as a purity of ingredients but something happened at the first whiff. I fell for Guerlain at first sight, the first whiff.

The Heritage

This 190-year-old brand, with over 1,000 fragrance creations and ongoing innovations in cosmetics (it created the first bullet lipstick in 1870) sets the benchmarks in the arena of luxury beauty. The design of its classic Rouge G lipstick with an integrated double mirror redefines luxury in colour cosmetics. This year, Rouge G became customisable: which means you can choose your favourite shades, along with the colour, motif and material of the mirrored case. In the 19th century, Guerlain offered women whitening skincare, which was highly sought-after at the time. Empress Sissi herself didn’t go out without Guerlain Crème à la Fraise, whose recipe protected and refreshed the complexion!

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Eau de Cologne Impériale

Most of the modern luxury fragrances (or beauty divisions) are entry points for customers into glitzy, couture world of designers. Think Chanel, Armani, Tom Ford you get the drift. Guerlain is different. It was founded as a beauty brand in 1828 and has managed to exude glamour through its absolutely stunning innovations and of course royal connections. Its founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, was awarded the title of “Patented Perfumer to Her Majesty” for creating Eau de Cologne Impériale for Empress Eugénie, to celebrate her marriage to Emperor Napoleon III. For this, he was awarded the title of “Patented Perfumer to Her Majesty”. He decorated the bottle with the bees (inspired by the dome of the Vendôme column built to the glory of Napoleon I’s Great Army) which later became one of the most potent codes (symbols) of the Guerlain. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain was one of the first to take an interest in the not-so-subtle link between a perfume and its bottle.

Since then, from the Bee bottle to the Upside-down Heart and Quadrilobé bottle that today holds many of its fragrances, Guerlain has always collaborated with the greatest artists. Expert artisans keep age-old techniques, such as barbichage (technique where a silk or regular string in the house colors is wrapped around the stopper and neck and knotted to decorate as well as add a further seal), baudruchage and wax seals, alive with their skilful hands. This to me defines luxury— the attention to details and efforts to preserve the heritage of perfume-making on the whole. The history of Guerlain taught me that true luxury, like true love, is about giving as much (if not more) than receiving!

Inside The Guerlain House

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Imagine my sheer ecstasy to be able to set afoot the iconic store (whose creations pulled me even from the distance) which stands elegantly on one of the most stylish streets in the world. La Maison Guerlain 68, Champs-Élysées, Paris. As soon as I entered the store, on one side was the skincare and colour cosmetic display and on the other were gleaming vintage baccarat crystal bottles.

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Tentatively my fingers traced the engraved bee symbol. Soon I was joined by Sarah Ben Kemoun, from Guerlain’s International Public Relations Division, who took me on a guided tour. She begins by informing me how visiting La Maison is a rite of passage for young Parisiennes, who are taken to the legendary store by their mothers.

Stories, Inspiration and More…

I learnt while Gustave Eiffel constructed his tower, which was seen as scandalous by his contemporaries, Aimé Guerlain (son of Pierre-François-Pascal) created Jicky, whose boldness surprised the Paris smart set. Jicky is considered to be a revolutionary fragrance, as it was the first to blend a number of synthetic notes with natural ingredients to beautifully enhance its fougère accord. It’s interesting to note how love is a leitmotif in most of Guerlain perfumes that have always been composed for a woman who is in love or is loved. Jicky was the nickname of Aimé’s nephew, Jacques Guerlain, as well as the name of the Perfumer’s first love, a young Englishwoman whom he met when studying in London and would never forget. Before the legendary Shalimar (famous for being the first oriental fragrance) Jacques Guerlain created Mitsouko, inspired by the eastern culture and the heroine of La Bataille, a novel by Claude Farrère which tells of the love of Mitsouko, the young wife of a Japanese admiral, for a young British naval attaché during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.

The India Connection

Jean-Paul Guerlain (grandson of Jacques Guerlain) created Samsara for the woman he loved who didn’t wear perfume but was fond of sandalwood, South Asian woods and jasmine. It is said that Jean-Paul Guerlain made numerous trips to India, where he acquired the purest sandalwood, unearthed a jasmine previously reserved for religious offerings, and had a factory built to distil it.  Maybe it was during these trips that Jacques Guerlain was fascinated by the legend Taj Mahal and the ethereal love that Shah Jahan shared for his wife Mumtaz. The award-winning bottle produced by Baccarat represents a basin in the Mughal gardens and for the first time, a fragrance was adorned with a coloured stopper, in a dark blue tone that reflected starry Indian nights. Till date, Guerlain sources many of its ingredients from India. Its present perfumer, Thierry Wasser, devotes three months of the year to search for fine, rare and precious essences, travelling the globe from Australia through Italy to India. He loves the jasmine from south of India.

Bespoke Perfumery

Sarah told me to keep an eye open for the historic zinc ‘soap’ container at the foot of the stairs to the First Floor. Through a mirror gallery, you move up to the first floor, to find the classic and the new fragrances on the stunning ‘organ’ in the centre of the main upstairs perfume gallery.

And it is here, that the Guerlain in-house perfumer will consult, taking you through various ingredients, noting your memories with each and come up with a scent that will talk to your soul. Samples will be sent to you, till you find the one, you fall for…On the left side is a private consultation room for those interested in creating their very own perfume. Assuming that your budget allows (because the bill could run up to a $50,000) you can schedule an appointment with the Guerlain perfumer, and he will understand your likes and dislikes, chart out your memories before he gets you closer to your personalized soul scent. A composition that will be created especially for you and not be shared ever without your permission. The secret log books have details of all the perfumes commissioned and their elite owners. I learn that bespoke fragrances are a norm for the brides (with means) there. So, if you are not very particular about having the fragrance which is one-of-its kind, made-to-measure (like a couture gown), there is a selection of niche fragrances, which is offered only at the Guerlain boutiques.

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Choose the Bee Bottle from the eight colours available, have it filled with the signature Guerlain fragrances of your choice (what you see in dispensers) and personalise your bottle with an engraving and a ribbon

These compositions are limited-numbered and the ingredients are precious, and of course the price point is more premium than their luxury range. And if you are fine with a little journey of discovery, like I was, move to the centre of the floor and get close to Guerlain perfume bottles from Shalimar to Mon Guerlain, and everything in between. When it comes to Guerlain perfumery, anything is possible. Your name can be engraved on the bottle, you can choose the bottle and add the ribbons to adorn it. You could have the most outrageous request and it will be honoured! The perfume cellar found in all Guerlain Perfumer Boutiques takes into consideration the perfect light and temperature (to the very degree) for storing – like fine wines – Guerlain fragrances in the legendary Bee bottle.

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Sustainable Beauty

L’Institut Guerlain (or what I perceived as their spa), situated on the top floor, welcomes with its vast pristine spaces. Made-To-Measure is the buzzword here, and everything about treatment can be tweaked to complement your convenience and concern. Before starting the treatment, the Guerlain Beauty Expert will ask you to choose an aromatic theme that will infuse the room with a relaxing scent. This multi-sensory experience artfully combines effectiveness and pleasure.

Talking about the Guerlain’s most prestigious Orchidee Imperiale range, Sarah informed about the massive research that goes on back end in the Orchidarium, a unique research centre made up of three centres: an Experimental Garden in Geneva, a Basic Research Laboratory in Strasbourg and a Biodiversity Nature Reserve in Tianzi in the Yunnan region of China. Sustainability in  beauty is a concept close to my heart. It means responsibility and respect towards the environment we reside in, which includes the soil and the hands that work on ground level. I salute brands that are into ethical sourcing, recyclable packaging and managing carbon footprint. That Guerlain does lead the beauty pack by example, is the reason I am also gravitated towards the brand.

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The orchid essential extract aims to revitalize the skin by helping with cellular regeneration and boost its longevity, firmness, density and radiance. After more than 12 years of research in the Orchidarium, 4 orchid types were selected from more than 30,000.

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Guerlain has been planting 10,000 orchids in the TianZi Mountain Nature Reserve in Yunnan, China since 2009.

With the Tianzi Reserve, Guerlain has made a long-term commitment to sponsoring sustainable development, contributing to the reforestation of the local jungle and helping to preserve and reintroduce wild-type orchids into their natural habitat. The concept of sustainable beauty which is gaining momentum now is a part of the Guerlain DNA.  Raw materials have always been a source of inspiration for Guerlain, and the House is fully involved in the protection of biodiversity. To bring in transparency, Guerlain worked with Ecocert to earn this first-of-its-kind certification, earning recognition for its commitment to biodiversity and the climate.The company is moving towards being carbon-neutral. Since all of Guerlain’s products are designed and made in France, they have to export them. Instead of opting for transportation via airplanes, they are moving toward trains, which takes more time but has a lower carbon footprint. Another example of this is providing mugs for their employees, which saves almost two tonnes of plastic each year.

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With the effervescent Sarah Ben Kemoun (International Public Relations Guerlain)

The House of Guerlain has always been inspired by the free, sparkling Parisian woman, as she is seen – and envied – the world over. Who can miss their light-hearted approach to life and a natural sense of style? I asked Sarah what is the real secret to the “French Beauty”?  She smiled, “Parisian women love quality beauty products but we aren’t obsessed about beauty. We have been taught to live life lightly. A French bride doesn’t care much about being perfect. That’s the key I think. We live in the moment and don’t care much about perfection.”

Au Revoir Guerlain!

Author

  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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