Friday, 24 January 2014

The Osmothèque Reviews: Jicky from Guerlain (Aimé Guerlain; 1889)

*** For background information on my Osmothèque Reviews,

An electric storm of thoughts went through my mind as I sniffed the Osmothèque's precious reconstitution of Jicky; at one point, I suspect my synapses were close to overloading and shutting down. Of all the observations buzzing in my brain, one of the more surprising was the notion that the current, retail version of Aimé Guerlain's masterpiece deserves more respect than most people seem willing to bestow. It isn't Guerlain's fault that the use of so much of the good stuff in their 1889 classic is now either restricted or forbidden. Working within punishing limitations, they have managed to maintain a product that is not only completely recognisable as the original, but also possesses the same soul. So, a tip of the hat to all parties responsible for keeping Jicky alive and well.

That said, the Osmothèque version is unquestionably superior. I was told by my genial host, Yves Tanguy, that it's a very recent reconstitution created specifically for the collection by Thierry Wasser. It's possible that some of its beauty stems from its very freshness. But that can't be the only factor which makes the scent so downright wonderful. The use of raw bergamot must help: fantastically bittersweet, it lends the composition a radiance which allows it to fill a room within a matter of moments. Tanguy reckons the quality of the sandalwood is crucial as well: certainly, it creates a drydown as smooth and elegant as anything I've ever had the pleasure of encountering.

Whatever the cause of the differences, the overall effect is extraordinary. The current version of Jicky pretty much displays all the same elements as the original - the bergamot, the civet, the vanilla, the lavender and the herbs - but it can't quite hide the seams that knit them together. The reconstitution is a joyful symphony of coherence, an alluring, indescribably complex piece of work which somehow manages to make a single, unbroken statement about sweetness, sunshine and sinfulness, without ever spelling out what it's doing. What's more, it displays a genuine progression of the ideas explored in Fougère Royale by Paul Parquet: Aimé Guerlain adopted the invigorating, powdery core of the fougère, added another soon-to-be-indispensable synthetic (vanillin) and introduced a host of contrasting, endearing complications, thereby elevating the whole to a far more grandiose status.

Like so many of the best Guerlains, Jicky manages to be both impeccably civilised and anything but. It would be a stretch to suggest that it presaged the social upheavals that were to take place a few decades after its appearance, but nonetheless, it's tempting to suppose that its invitation to 'scratch the charming veneer and release the animal' ties in with the rise of individualism and the loosening of sexual politics. Or maybe it's just genius, full stop: as free and timeless as any truly great work of art. Like some kind of satyr in an Armani suit, it is dangerous, decorous and hopelessly ravishing.



  1. Jicky is genius indeed, and you make me want to pop out my (modern formulation) bottle and wear it tomorrow. Coincidentally, I'm in vintage L'Heure Bleue, and I think the differences with the current formulation are quite pronounced, being smoother and not having a sharp, screechy hairspray top note.

    1. Vagabond, thanks for stopping by. In my collection, I have something that claims to be vintage L'Heure Bleue, and yes, it is definitely smoother than the current version.

      'Smooth' is almost a synonym for 'vintage', it seems.

  2. Thanks for the review. I'm not tremendously familiar with Jicky but your review set me to wondering which fragrances on the perfume counters today, which we may take for granted as just another fragrance, are the masterpieces of tomorrow whose ruin will be a cause of sorrow for our grandchildren.

    Yes, when perfume enthusiasts are asked what they think are the modern classics, most of us will just name our favourites. What I like to do is play with the idea and really try to imagine the conversation if, say Narciso Rodriguez for Her, or Eau des Merveilles (but insert your own choice here) turn out to be carcinogenic or something. 'Oh, the way the orange blossom blended with those amazing musks!' (NR4H); 'Oh, the strange, fresh dryness of the orange!' (EdM) 'Why didn't we buy a lifetime supply when we could? I remember seeing bottles on the shelf as big as your hand ... ! If I only had a time machine I would go back and ... '.

    I love this sort of mental exercise, which involves trying to imagine the ordinary of today as extraordinary and rare tomorrow.

    1. Annemariec, that's a very good question. As Jean-Claude Ellena pointed out when he gave a talk in London a while ago, it's easy to praise creations from yesteryear because we know which ones have stood the test of time and are worthy of praise. It's much harder predicting future classics.


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