I'm sure you all know the saying "When you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours". Does that also apply to perfume? I set Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue free more than 15 years ago, and just a few weeks ago, I heard its wings gently beating on my bedroom window once again. I have welcomed it back into my life in a way I never thought I would again, and all it took was a sample vial I'd forgotten I had.
L'Heure Bleue has always held a special place in my heart and in my memory. When I was a teenager, it was the first perfume I ever walked into a department store and picked out and bought for myself. I spent a long time at the Guerlain counter, fussing over every bottle in the multi-tiered carousel display, barely believing everything I was sniffing. I grew up with a mother who loved her massive florals (especially YSL's Paris and Cacharel's Anaïs Anaïs), and I had not previously smelt perfumes with so many subtleties, many of which offer an emotional watercolour portrait that you may insinuate yourself into at will. So many temptations, all new, each soul-stirring in their own unique way. But nothing could prepare me for L'Heure Bleue. It smelt like nothing else, like something I absolutely had no business wearing as a young teenage girl. It was like the whispered promise of a young lover, one that you can't be sure will be fulfilled, but you'd be a fool not to take a chance.
I wore L'Heure Bleue for a couple of years, and then I set it aside. I wish I knew what happened to the bottle, but it is long lost. My tastes changed many times over, but I have never gone back into L'Heure Bleue territory since then, until recently. So what brought this perfume back to me? Another new perfume: Oscar De La Renta's Esprit d'Oscar.
Esprit d'Oscar could definitely be a relative of L'Heure Bleue, a daughter, perhaps. Where L'Heure Bleue's transitions between stages of wear are fairly seamless, Esprit d'Oscar is thrilling in its citrus/aldehyde opening, then softens considerably. L'Heure Bleue is something that transcends what I consider "classic", even though it technically satisfies all of the requirements of a classic as well. It left an indelible fingerprint on me, and like certain music becomes too emotionally charged to revisit because of memories you have attached to it, it had to be retired so many years ago. It was stronger than I was. I was laid bare by its ethereal nature, and it turned out that I really was too young to be wearing it - too young to understand it anyway, too inexperienced to know anything about why certain scents affected me, and how. Little did I know how much of a focus in my life those very things would become one day. Why couldn't I have had Esprit d'Oscar 15 years ago? Now I'm just happy to have it because it makes me giddy with joy, something its forlorn kin never managed to do.
What do I get out of L'Heure Bleue now that was lost on me when I was younger? Well, I know what a heliotropin masterpiece it is, how a touch of anise can cool off an entire perfume, and I know how it's possible that once the top notes in a perfume fade and the base notes begin to emerge, sweetness follows, and intensifies over time. This is what I've come to know as one of Guerlain's signatures. I understand how what can be perceived as a cool and distant fragrance is actually full of passion, just an outwardly restrained kind. L'Heure Bleue does not hang from the chandeliers at parties, it has a sparkle in its eye that belies a rich inner world.
Now that I am all grown, I experience L'Heure Bleue in a different way. I am able to appreciate the individual notes for what they are as well as the impression of the whole; I can look at it from many angles, assess, dissect, extrapolate and categorize it. There is nothing technical I can say about the perfume that hasn't already been said a hundred times over, and probably better than I could have said. But that's not the point of my story. What lies at the heart is, well, the heart. I have had a lifelong obsession with perfume, and L'Heure Bleue was a milestone for me. Becoming acquainted with this particular fragrance is an experience I look back on fondly, it was my first real love. I'm at that point in my life where not only is it clear to me exactly what I want, but I'm honest enough with myself to allow the past to show itself to me in whatever form it prefers. I have been receptive to this antique sensory memory, and have accepted it back into my life as part of the pack. It won't be sitting on my shelf as a relic, I can let its white magic wash over me and take hold without the sadness or fear that can accompany the inexperience of youth.
So tell me, are there any fragrances you've let fly away from you only to have them return another day unexpectedly? Perfumes often represent a certain period in a person's life. Is there a special one from the past you'd like to bring back by invitation?
© 2011 Carrie Meredith
About the guest blogger: Carrie Meredith's blog - Eyeliner On A Cat - delves into the joys and challenges of retaining perfume as her sole mistress. She doesn't review perfumes so much as she lets them speak through her, and she enjoys the company of the witty ones the most. Chasing the soul of scent is her most worthwhile endeavour.