Regardless of one's views on his family firm's recent output, it would be churlish to deny the importance of the work of Jean-Paul Guerlain. A CV that includes names like Nahema, Habit Rouge, Chamade and Vetiver cannot be dismissed. However, despite his considerable achievements, it looks like his exit won't be marked with anything approaching a bang: his final creations - Arsène Lupin Le Dandy and Arsène Lupin Le Voyou - are unlikely to attain the admiration enjoyed by his enduring classics.
What this doesn't mean is that they're entirely without merit. Le Dandy is a gentle, discreet, well-blended take on sweet, powdery violets and pale woods. The prominence of its floral accord places it within the small category of feminine perfumes pretending to be masculine, scents such as Dior Homme which dare to go against the received wisdom of market research and choose to play the gender-bending card. One of the main reasons why Olivier Polge's creation worked was because it didn't settle for half-measures, but Le Dandy doesn't have the same boldness, uncertainly hovering somewhere between Habit Rouge and Lutens' Bois De Violette. It's pleasant and inoffensive, but also rather thin and certainly not interesting or complex enough to justify its high price tag.
Le Voyou has been almost universally slated by the blogosphere and I confess that when its top notes reached my nose, I thought my assessment of it would be pretty negative too: the fragrance that Guerlain would have us believe is Le Dandy's alter ego opens with ultra-generic, synthetic, citrusy woods of the sort that endlessly clog up the men's section of perfumeries. However, a few minutes into its development, it does display a more compelling attribute. Up close, it continues to smell formulaic, but from a distance, it radiates a more powerful version of the powdery florals from Le Dandy. Although this doesn't fully redeem the whole, it does at least make it marginally more likeable and provides evidence that somewhere in its core lies a praiseworthy idea.
Curious to discover if the duo might function as a yin and yang, Jekyll and Hyde combo, I decided to spray one scent on top of the other. Sadly, no revelations were forthcoming. Voyou completely deminated Dandy and reduced proceedings to a messy soup. Serves me right for trying to be too clever... or maybe I was just desperate to convince myself that my undying faith in Guerlain isn't misguided.
[Le Dandy and Le Voyou are now available at Harrods; reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Guerlain in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]
A few days after writing the above, I had a chance to smell Idylle Duet, Thierry Wasser's flanker of his own Idylle. I'm pleased to be able to say that it persuaded me to keep the faith. Duet plays to the original's strengths, retaining the intricate, dew-soaked garden whilst emphasising a sonorous, almost-Arabian rose note. Well worth trying.