LE TRAIN BLEU ~ L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain

4:45 PM, Paris, Summer, 1985

Slightly frayed but none the less beautiful the upholstery of the luxurious compartment number 6 sighed its familiar welcome to the Comtesse Lamoureux as she eased into it. The porter, nearly as ancient as she and by now an old friend set a Lalique crystal glass half full of Frapin Cuvee 1888 on the table before her.

“Merci Ramon.” She began to pluck off her gloves then delicately placed them on the table next to the cognac one upon the other as always. She looked out the window onto the platform of the Gare de Lyon. “This is a most important trip,” she said softly.  “for both of us.”

“Qui Madame la Comtesse, the last run of this great train.”

She smiled. “I think for a change, tonight I shall take a late supper in the grand salon.”

Ramon bowed and left the Countess looking out the window toward the patch of fading afternoon blue where the iron station opened onto beige Paris and the south.

The coach barley lurched and began to inch into the last journey of Le Train Bleu.

The great iron and glass roof of the station opened as the train picked up speed and Paris slid away, like so many playing cards falling from a gaming table. The countess was transfixed on her reflection in the glass. What she saw there was no longer familiar, it was a young woman, herself sixty years in the past on her way to Nice for the first time.

***

She was not the most beautiful girl on the Côte d’Azur but perhaps the prettiest to arrive in the middle of the années folles. As she stepped down onto the platform of the station in her Chanel summer whites. The fragrance of the south hit her like a new lover’s scent. In fact, she had come south in the mad flush of new love. His name was Pete, he was an American saxophone player who had captivated her one night when she and her boyfriend of the moment René, had stumbled upon the Casanova Club. There he was. The most beautiful black man she had ever seen, playing the most beautiful music, she had ever heard.

Pete never called her by her first name that summer of 1925 as they romped the Côte d’Azur from Marselle to Menton. He simply called her “Countess”.  Sleeping till four in the afternoon after nights of Jazz and cocktails. Romping on the beach at dawn. Caviar and eggs for breakfast. By the last days of September, She was ready to give up everything for him.

He went back to America that winter. Sporting a bruised heart she went home to Pairs on The Blue Train.

***

 

The trip south the winter of 1939 was to escape the cold of the city. But not long after her arrival in Monte Carlo, things began to look grim. People were heading south not to escape winter but to try and outrun the fear of what was coming to Paris, what was devouring Europe. She stayed on to help friends and then soon strangers as well find refuge. After the fall of Pairs that summer of 1940 her villa in the hills above Monaco became a meeting place for young men and women of the Resistance against the German occupation and the Vichy government.

His name was Axel Barre. He was first and foremost a freedom fighter and secondly, perhaps the love of her life. He died in a ditch, executed by a German firing squad.

***

 

At 56 she was the picture of polished, poised, elegance the summer of 1961. The train trip south was marred by nothing except the incessant snoring of the man in compartment number 7. The Countess sat up all night with cotton stuffed in her ears trying to read “Heaven Has No Favorites”. It was useless. Each time he ceased his rumble she closed the book, put out the light and removed the cotton from her ears, he would start up again.

The following morning she went to an early breakfast in the Grand Salon and found herself sitting across the table from a Monsieure Jean Lucien Dubeau. He said good morning and from the timber of his voice she knew at once that he was the cause of her sleepless night. She gave him a scowl, he gave her a dazzling smile, a wink, and ordered a bottle of champagne for both of them. They were married in a miniscule country church near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat the following Spring.  She never really got a good nights sleep from then on.

***

On this final journey of Le Train Bleu the Countess sat up all night thinking about the journey behind her and what little of it remained before her. It had been a good ride for the most part. There were many things along the way she had enjoyed and much she had endured, wild young love gone wrong, A world torn by war and loss, and finally the love of a good man whose ashes she now carried to the villa in the blue-green hills above Monte Carlo.

As she stepped from the train onto the platform in her black and white Chanel suit the fragrance of the south enveloped her like the warm hug of an old friend.

***********************************************

L’Heure Bleue created by Jacques Guerlian in 1912 has come to symbolize the end of the Belle Epoch in France just before the beginning of World War I. It has been called a farewell to a romantic era, a melancholy remembrance of things lost to time, not to be found ever again. The cap on the bottle is an inverted heart that symbolically captures that past in perfume form from the bottle it encapsulates thus preserving within its transparent heart the memories of lost love and departed friends.

All of this is true. But for me there is more, something deeper in L’Heure Bleue. It is the perfume of a complete lifetime held in memories of youth and the passing of time into maturity. It is not melancholy as one would expect such memories to be, but rather reflective of life, a contented quiet and very personal joy.

Who can wear L’Heure Bleue? Anyone who has the daring to be in a space beyond the ordinary. Someone not only with an appreciation of history by someone who also has a past both intriguing and perhaps slightly tainted with scandal. A past worth writing about in a diary one hopes to be found fascinating by others if found at all.  In short it is suited to both men and women of taste and sophistication.

It opens quite classically as one would expect such a perfume of this vintage and from this particular house to do. Notes of anise, coriander, neroli, bergamot, and lemon spark and fizz but momentarily like the flicker of old movies, a editing of cinematic notes mixed with music, that quickly collapse into the unfolding beauty of the middle composition.

Here we get the classic powder and Guerlainade that was established with Jicky in 1889. The bergamot, rose, tonka, vanilla. Jasmin, and animalic and resinous accords make up this signature, a DNA of the house so to speak. It is a kind of Jicky through the looking glass. Notes in the middle comprised of Rose, cloves, Jasmine, tuberose and Geranium hit my nose with the most power. Undertones of ylang ylang and violet play supporting roles to this old world glamour. This phase lasts about three to four hours.

In the dry down we get the full force of the powder and seduction there in of this fragrance that lingers well into the sixth hour. The animalic accords are here along with the swirling hypnotic benzoin note. This combined with the iris, vanilla, sandalwood, and vetiver create an incense accord that is incensual (if I may create a word that sums up my love of perfumes that are smoky, exotic, and mysterious) This is where the fragrance carries its key to our memories. It is as magical, romantic, and epic as a journey to the Cote Azure on the long lost Le Train Bleu.

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11 Comments

  1. you know i recently acquired a bottle of lalique encre noire a l’extreme as a winter alternative to my beloved guerlain vetiver…it is glorious..possibly the heaviest scent i’v ever wore, although i’ve only known a three or four….i love to read your windmills of your mind… it’s always so good, and i’m going to take it to bed with me tonight…you’ll remember how i told you i got into the habit of spraying cologne on my pillows…i wonder if you do…i’m sure you do..i’m absolutely sure of it.

    • Dear friend…you are absolutely correct. I do indeed spray my pillows with perfume. I am so please that you dropped a note and said hello. I have not written in such a long time and now that I am settled in a new part of the world it is time to get back to work. Your words mean so much and I treasure them and you, the friend I have never met in person. Big HUG.

    • I love Lalique encre noir à l’extreme that I find mysterious and depply dark as a disturbing travel in the Middle East .

  2. Wonderful one! You are back! I will settle in tonight and write you an email.

  3. I really enjoyed this story! With Pete the entrancing saxophone player! Caviar and eggs at breakfast. The Countess seeing herself in the past as she travels to Nice! Nice images. L’HB is like a happy Mitsouko without the peach note. An uplifting Jicky too with a pixie sparkling element. A fantastic mood enhancing scent for sure. Perfect for time travel like the story. Well done Maestro!

    • Chris thank you so much. Yes there is joy in L’Heure Bleue and many many memories. Cheers.

  4. This was an excellent read! I like the thread of nostalgia; a journey on a train as well as through memory. Travel by rail is fascinating to me, especially the idea that at one time it was luxurious! A lost time indeed; the inclusion of the train posters was a perfect touch.

    I’ve only tried L’Heure Bleue as the eau de toilette. I can understand the melancholy note that some pick up on, but to me it is comforting. I remember, after my father passed away and I had to visit the cemetery to settle things for his burial, I needed strength and comfort. There was something about L’Heure Bleue that made me feel safe and so I wore a light spritz of it to calm me. Perhaps it’s the anise note (my father was a big fan of licorice), but I felt a little as though he was there to support me in spirit, as well as a sense of being more at-peace. So, this fragrance for me has become like a soft, comforting embrace.

    It’s interesting how well the iris and anise notes work together; some say they get an almond note from the heliotrope, but I do not; perhaps I need to try the EdP. Also, thank you for discussing the Guerlainade! It truly is like a DNA of Guerlain–one can differentiate almost any Guerlain from perfumes of other houses due to that ingenious accord.

    I hope you will keep writing, I would love to read more! ♥

    • Thank you so much Tia Eliza. Your memory of your experience with L’Heure Bleue is so beautiful. I truly loved reading it. I have to add that I don’t get an almond note either.
      I will keep writing…there is more to smell and tell. Cheers.

  5. You have a way with words. If you have more stories, I hope you will one day share them with the world. I’ve tried L’Heure Bleu EDP a couple of times in the past and it seemed anise heavy to me till the powdery and fluffy end. It was still a likeable perfume, seems unisex to my nose. I may try it again to see if I capture more nuances. Perhaps the parfum would work better on me.

    • Thank you Gun! this blog is full of my stories LOL. Hope you can read more of them sometime. Cheers.

  6. Lanier, I love your writing and this review. LHB is one of a kind, and hugely influential (I’ve always thought of Jaipur Homme as an homage to LHB, for example). I really get something exotic in LHB. My first reaction when I blind bought it was ‘this smells like 3/4’s almond pastry mixed with1/4th 60’s headshop incense.’ When there is heliotrope in a perfume, it’s all I smell. But my nose is not as skilled as yours, so I only catch the broad strokes.

    Regardless, kudos

    PS Guerlain says that Jacques Guerlain sent bottles of LHB to French soldiers in WWI. I can only imagine the horrors of the trenches, and while LHB would do nothing to solve those, I still think it is a remarkable story.


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