LES DAMES DE GUERLAIN ~ A Special Event at the Guerlain Boutique

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The last time I saw Paris was in May of 2006. I have wanted to return to the beautiful Parisians and their ville de lumière ever since. Yesterday I discovered that my wish was to be granted for a few hours at least. Paris had come to San Francisco.

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Several weeks ago my friend Hilary Randall, Fragrance Specialist; Trainer at Parfums Christian Dior took me over to the Guerlain counter at Neiman Marcus to smell a hidden treasure. There she introduced me to the very charming and vivacious Guerlain sales associate Irene. I was struck at once by this transplanted Parisian’s impeccable charm. Hilary explained to Irene that she wanted me to smell the two remaining bottles of Le Deserts de Orient Series. Irene bubbled with excitement to share the treasure behind her counter and with a smile she took me by the hand and led the way. Her smile is like a blond halo and so infectious that I was smitten on the spot by this very engaging woman.

Irene explained that a very special client had ordered a bottle of Song d’un Bois d’Ete and by lucky chance Paris had sent all three of the line. With great and tender care Irene dipped a long glass stem into the bottles of each and opened the gates of paradise before me.

During our sampling of the perfumes Hilary told Irene about Scents Memory. Upon hearing this Irene invited me to a very special Guerlain event that would consist of a one on one meeting with the perfume specialist and director of Guerlain for the United States, Marie Line Patry.

Before I left Guerlain in my glimmering middle eastern cloud of blended Encens Mythique D’Orient and Rose Nacree du Desert (my favorite of the two) Irene informed my that my fragrant friend Mary Edington would be having her appointment with Marie Line on the half hour before mine. We agreed that it would be a fun secret if we didn’t tell her and I just popped up at 10:30 to surprise her and maybe even make a day of it.

The MUNI Metro was not feeling well yesterday when I boarded the train that would take me downtown for my appointment at Guerlain. In fits and starts I was finally deposited at the Powell Street Station with only a few minutes to make my appointment and catch Mary before she left.

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Under the spectacular gold and ivory rotunda of Neiman’s I found Irene and Mary in a perfume huddle. Mary was truly surprised to see me and delighted when I asked her to have lunch with me and my new buddy Mario Gomez, The Perfume Ambassador of the Bay Area and who reps several perfume lines. It turned out that Mario had the appointment after mine and we had agreed to meet up as well.

Irene introduced me to Marie Line. When she spoke I was transported to Paris in l’instant. She has a gorgeous voice that is only surpassed by her charm and indelible blond beauty. What a treat for the ears and the eyes she is. What a font of knowledge about perfume and the house of Guerlain.

 

Marie Line, Lanier, and Irene

Mary asked if she could join us on my olfactory appointment just to see my reaction to the perfumes I was about to smell. Mais bien sûr! Marie Line and I discussed the history of Guerlain and the exceptional quality of the house. We explored the idea that in France it is a right of passage for a young girl to be taken at around age twelve to buy her first perfume. It is a charming ritual that I had witnessed myself just recently when I saw the BBC documentary “Perfume”. At Guerlain the idea is to “get them young and keep them for life.”

Then we moved on to a presentation of some very special limited editions of perfumes by the house, the 100th anniversary bottle of L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar, 68, and Reve de Lune among them. There were others but just three were my main focus for the presentation.

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L’Heure Bleue Limited Edition

Each of the perfumes comes in a special bottle that in itself is a work of art. For example Baccarat was commissioned to design the limited edition bottle for L’Heure Bleue. The color had to be a perfect representation of the sky at magic hour. That splendiferous twilight blue that had inspired Jacques Guerlain to create the melancholy beauty. Marie Line told me that John Paul Guerlain was very particular in getting the color just right. Then there was added a “necklace” created by the Parisian jewelers Gripiox. The effect of the presentation was stunning. (The special order bottles were shown to me in photographs as they are lager than life and very limited.)

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Reve de Lune Limited Edition

Marie Line then introduced me to several perfumes from the Limited Editions presented in modest sample bottles, Reve de Lune and 68 “The Turtle”. As she sprayed 68 on my arm she told me how the perfume came to get the nickname “The Turtle”. It seems that Monsieur John Paul Guerlain made a surprise visit to the boutique at 68 Avenue des Champs Élysées he found the employees to be not up to speed. So when it came time to name the perfume and the address number of 68 was chosen he called it “The Turtle because they are so slow!”

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“The Turtle” 68 (Originally there were 72 ingredients in the perfume, but to be poetic it was reduced to just 68.)

Then Marie Line applied Reve de Lune to my right arm. The perfume was a bright burst of aldehydic citrus, jasmine and resins that I found gorgeous. On the other arm “The Turtle” was low and earthy and took on the dark rich smell of expensive clay one finds in an elegant spa in Nice or Monte Carlo.

These incredible perfumes were way beyond my pocket book but absolutely a delight to sample. I told Marie Line that I did indeed come to Guerlain with a purchase in mind. I wanted a classic and it was between L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar. At Marie Line’s bidding, Irene brought the two perfumes to our table and Marie Line found a patch of un-perfumed skin on my arms to test. L’Heure Bleue was as beautiful and wistful as I had remembered, but the Shalimar pure parfume met my skin and a love affaire between the two was ignited.  Mary and Marie Line were both amazed at the effect that was unfolding. Mary said that on her skin Shalimar just laid there and never really sparked. I smelled her arm where indeed Shalimar was taking a nap.  But on my skin it was all sparkling spice and smoking incense, it seemed to shimmer like tiny fireworks just above my skin. It was incredible.

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With my appointment drawing to a regrettable end I concluded my sale and thanked Marie Line for a fascinating visit. Mary and I had some time to kill before Mario’s appointment so we went around the perfume counters discussing what we found there of interest. We stumbled upon Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino and took a whiff. We both agreed that it was a very rich interpretation of Maurer & Wirtz 4711.

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Mary Edington

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Mario Gomez chatting with Marie Line. Irene and Mary share a story about Roja Dove.

We then met up with Mario as his appointment with Marie Line was ending. We bid les dames de Guerlain goodbye and headed out for a late brunch at the very grand Grand Café. As we passed though the rococo rotunda I suddenly recalled that the beautiful old piece of architecture housed within the modern box that is our Neiman Marcus had been preserved from the previous building now gone.  The grand old department store that had stood on that very spot since the 19th Century was in fact called, The City of Paris.

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The old City of Paris department store San Francisco.

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29 Comments

  1. Paris can always be found in San Francisco 🙂

    • Yes it can, As a matter of fact David, back in the late 19th century San Francisco was called “The Paris of the West”. We also have the beautiful museum Legion de Honor filled with great French Impressionist paintings and Rodin sculptures.

      • Early in my architectural career, I supervised the installation of new skylights at the Palace of the Legion of Honor!

      • Oh my goodness well then know know!

  2. Ah, you captured our day so perfectly! I will forever associate smelling Shalimar with how it smelt on you.

    • Merci Mary! It was so much fun and you made it very special!

  3. 😉

    • Absolutely ….we’ll always have Paris…and Beachwood Canyon.

  4. Michael, it sounds like a lovely day. I attended one of the previous traveling fragrance events and had a wonderful time (and a much lighter pocketbook at the end of the day). Money well spent! I had no idea that SF has a couple bottles from the Middle-Eastern Collection. I should run in and re-sniff the Encens Mythique.

    • Brooke what a delight to see you here! I can’t wait for the next SF Sniff! I don’t know if they still have the desert collection but it may be worth a trip into town! It’s funny but I just fell into this event by chance. I had such a great time!

  5. Only this morning I looked at my near empty bottle of L’Heure Bleue. . . The featured bottle here is specatcular and what a delightful morning for you all in the Parisian corner of San Francisco.

    • Time to go perfume shopping Patti. Wish I could go with you. What fun that would be.

      • You wish? I wish, and yes, what fun! Strange isn’t it what sparks on whom? I have always wanted to fall in love with Mitsouko and Jicky but alas, they don’t penetrate the same way L’Heure Bleue does. Don’t you just love chemistry!

      • Yes I love chemistry now a lot better than I did in high school! I have the same problem with Jicky. It just doesn’t click on my skin. I so wish it did, but there you have it, the mystery of fragrance and personal taste.

  6. You always go on the best little shopping excursions. Mine are never that eventful. I’m lucky if I can even find the testers for the perfumes I want to try.

  7. Paris – San Francisco … San Francisco – Paris … What a fortunate man you are, dear Lanier. Ando so nice of you to share with your readers the experience, because anything about Guerlain IS an experience, I remember well your notes on L’Intant, so charming as usual. By the way, I am so inclined to get a bottle of La petite Robe Noire, edp, like a sort of Karma for almost everybody says is not a a good scent. It is not that I intend to wear it, but the add along with nancy Sintrana’s song just me me feel like having it. I hope you will have a wonderful week in not any less wonderful San Francisco.

    • I understand how you feel about La Petite Robe Noir. Such a beautiful bottle and the commercials are simply wonderful. Thank you Jose!

  8. This 100th year bottle of L’Heure Bleue is sublime. I never had the luck of seeing it in real life unfortunately. Thanks for sharing your your experience and making me envious ; )

    • Clayton it is amazing but I didn’t see it in person either! Only in the photographs that Marie Line brought with her. So happy to see you here!

  9. Oh I love SF’s Neiman Marcus! Such a great place to shop for perfumes. What a wonderful adventure, thank you for sharing! I adore my Guerlains – I have Mitsouko, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee, and Chamade.

    • Yes you have some real treasures there Annina! Like owning little bottles filled with Paris.

  10. Lanier, lovely to see your smiling face. What a fine day that must have been.

    I think that I might have mentioned that I have “problem-skin” for perfumes–I have been told by fellow red-heads that it is a red-head thing and has to do with too much acidity! But Guerlain is one of the few houses that I can go to where I know that the perfumes won’t fizzle or go awry. As L’Heure Bleu has always been my favorite time of day, I do believe that will be my next. And I am beyond delighted to imagine “your” Shalimar–up until now I have associated it with a very regal French woman that I know that wears it…coldly…I far prefer your giving it spark!

    With my Best from Provence,
    Heather

    • My dear Heather,
      Oh what a lovely complement! I will wear my Shalimar with warm smiles and enjoy the little fireworks display just above my skin. I am so happy that with your red headed problem there is Guerlain to the rescue. And with over 100 scents to choose from you will almost never be at a loss of what to wear or what to buy next.
      Always
      Lanier

      • So true. As you mentioned, the house is “for life” and I have already gone through different of their scents depending on the where and the when. Chamade gave me courage for auditions in NYC, now Jicky is appropriate for my quiet existence.

        Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. There is usually something more interesting than VEGETABLES to see but alas our non-stop train of over 90° days has turned me into one!
        Have a wonderful day in SF…

  11. Dearest Lanier
    What an absolutely lovely story and I am green with envy for all your wining and dining and sampling with the ladies of Guerlain!
    As for your purchase… I am so glad that Shalimar loved your skin, I’ve always thought it might! And with you San Franciscan not-Summer Summers it must be absolutely perfect with its combination balmy night and dark spice.
    Finally, I do hope you won’t think it too gauche for me to comment on how dashing your attire was… cream and mauve (or perhaps imperial Roman purple), well, sir, they are a treat.
    Tres chic.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  12. It sounds like a great experience (even without those gorgeous special bottles – though to see those I would have made a trip to the SF Neiman Marcus). Congratulations on your new bottle: I think perfumes are even more enjoyable when they come as a result of a special event – a trip, a vacation or interesting encounter.

    • You are so right. This little bottle of Shalimar has wonderful memories attached to it.

  13. Dear Lanier, the bottle of Shalimar on your photo is so beautiful. It is also different from the ones I saw when thinking of purchasing it online – that’s pure parfum? What’s your opinion of Shalimar edp? I am currently very interested in it, but read a review where a woman claims that Shalimar changed significantly since they no longer use a certain animal’s musk…should I bother over how much the perfumes change over decades or just go ahead?


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