Since he took up his post as in-house nose at Guerlain, the quality of Thierry Wasser's creations for the house has been variable. Idylle continues to attract derision from fans of the brand, as does the recent Shalimar Parfum Initial (although both of them have performed respectably over the counter). On the other hand, he's also given us the excellent Guerlain Homme L'Eau Boisée as well as a pleasant riff on Habit Rouge dubbed L'Eau (not yet released in the UK). It's almost as though he works best when he isn't under pressure to deliver The Next Important Launch. I'm sure the aforementioned Homme flanker is expected to make a return on investment, but it's probably a much lower-risk release than, say, the Shalimar, and perhaps this relative freedom from fiscal imperatives translates into creative liberation for Wasser.
Luckily for us, he's also got the Aqua Allegoria line to play with: the scents are inexpensive, low-profile, unfussy, and if they don't strike a chord with the public, they're removed from the range with no loss of face (as seems to have happened with last year's Jasminora). This provides Wasser with a relaxed context in which to try out new ideas and see how they're received. His latest effort, Lys Soleia, shows yet again that he's at his strongest when he's given plenty of room to breathe, because it just happens to be one of the finest things Guerlain have released for years.
In keeping with the comparatively simpler aesthetic of the range, LS is basically a lily and ylang scent, but it presents its central idea with such irresistible joie de vivre, it would be churlish to state that it's nothing more than a representation of two flowers, complex and intoxicating though they may be. For a start, the lily has genuine bite to it, mixing the familiar odour of the blooms with the sharpness of the stem and the sappy greeness of the leaves. This serves to bring out the more sensuous aspects of the ylang and reduce its medicinal, banana-like facets.
But it's the base that's the most noteworthy, as it appears to mark a return to the Guerlain vibe that so many people feel has been lacking in recent releases. And yes, by that mean I mean it's sweet, vanillic and unashamedly dessert-like. There's even a suggestion of dry herbs (possibly parsley and thyme) and whilst I hesitate to use the term 'Guerlinade', smelling LS does make you wonder if Thierry's been browsing through the dusty formulae in the family attic.
Finally, the soleil aspect comes in the form of gorgeous, radiant citrus notes (probably mandarin and bergamot) which bring an unforced smile to proceedings and round off the whole with ease and confidence. Talented pastry chefs manage to weave somewhat more unusual ingredients - such as jasmine or orange blossom - into their culinary efforts in a manner which makes you wonder why everyone doesn't raid the florist's before cooking dessert. Lys Soleia has the very same effect: you don't know whether you want to glue it to your nose or give it or a Michelin star. Delightful work... and highly recommended to fans of Penhaligon's wonderful and, sadly, discontinued, Lily & Spice.
In brief... On paper, Nuit Étoilée sounds wonderful: inspired by Sean Penn's Into The Wild; reminiscent of a night spent under the stars; created with materials that speak of vast, unfettered expanses. Even the name is commendable, with its play on the toile from which we have the term 'eau de toilette'. Sadly, Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen's juice doesn't live up to these expectations. By no means is it a complete disaster, but its overemphasis on mint and pine deadens the contrasts that one hopes to find in a high-quality scent. More importantly, it never conveys the nocturnal mood suggested by its name (the key accord is just too bright for that) and its mossy, musky base certainly doesn't smell as natural as one would like an outdoorsy scent to be. Not a nuit to remember.
[Review of Lys Soleia based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Guerlain in 2012; review of Nuit Étoilée based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Annick Goutal in 2012.]