The paternal figure of Guerlain, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain formed his namesake house in 1828. He began selling toiletries, and imports from Britain from his shop in the Hôtel Meurice. What distinguished Pierre from other shops and offerings was his service creating customised scents for clients; which was only made possible through his studies in Britain in the fields of medicine and chemistry.
Cologne or eaux fraiche (fresh water) style of fragrances were not unheard of, with many greats still available today, such as the traditional German Eau de Cologne by Mäurer & Wirtz, and Fahrina from the relatively ancient time of 1709. It is suggested that the framework for Eau De Cologne Impèriale is actually a tweaked version of Fahrina with lovelies such as lime and rosemary – which can be clearly smelt.
It was only in 1853 when this 1830 creation was delivered as a gift for Napoléon the III and his wife-to-be Eugénie de Montijo. Supposedly, this was a gift to Eugénie to cure her splitting headaches – as it was believed that the fresh citrus notes in eaux fraiche refreshed and cured headaches! Whether or not this worked, she was impressed with the fragrance gifted to her that she allowed Monsieur Guerlain to call this fragrance Eau De Cologne Impériale. This success propelled the Guerlain house in a successful direction; and thus we have the legendary Guerlain of today.
© 2014 Liam Sardea
This fragance is housed in the bee bottle adorned with 69 bees, the imperial symbol. One may say this fragrance is protected by the bees, as Guerlain is the fragrant pride of France.
This opens rather steely compared to other fragrances available today, with a lively citrus composition that is very difficult to dissect. If anything, the overall feel delivered is lime, with a citrus twang slightly less rounded than orange or bergamot, predominantly focused on the pointed sharpness of lime – much sharper than lemon. It is slightly sour too, nevertheless amplified with other citruses, such as a resolute yet boiled lemon note and a permeating bergamot. It is revitalising, but has a slight sense of restraint due to the cold nature of the opening.
Medicinal notes join in shortly after, with verbena and herbs most obvious. As a critic in the twenty-first century, the verbena calls to mind the fougere blueprint found and perfected by Guerlain in Jicky and Mouchoir De Monsieur. Coming across to some degree as retro, the verbena and herbs impart a greenness as expected, with the verbena naturally giving citrus connotations and facets. I was told you should also expect a raw sugar smell somewhere in the middle – and that becomes obvious when you are told of its existence.
This creation smells soapy and clean due to the lavender, neroli and the tiniest trace of musk. Like many soap associations I make, this particular example is a bit of a lathered one. It’s not diaphanous or airy, but it is rather dense enough to cling to the skin for a very short juncture – the lack of base notes makes for a short but sweetly lived fragrance. Neroli has floral undertones, whilst these three notes overall impart a soapy quality, perfectly enjoyable and simplistically perfect like a clean white dress shirt.
Eau De Cologne Impériale reminds me of hydrosols, with this one emphasising lime water. These are literally aqueous remnants of the distillation process, scented mildly by the initial reagents of the distillation. These are bright in scent for sure, but are nothing short of an excuse for a fragrance – lacking seriously in complexity, sillage and longevity.
As it was back in the 1800’s, for me this eaux fraiche only serves a utilitarian purpose; and arguably all colognes do. I go through this like nothing, and with my finger poised over the atomizer I rapidly spritz this on as if my life depended on it. It is refreshing, and in conjunction with the alcohol content immediately cooling on blistering Australian summer days. I like this because it is a formally and intelligently composed fragrance too; simple, but calculatedly so. It is complex but not complicated, making for an elegant fragrance. This is my Guerlain museum piece.
The perfect layering device. Try boosting any other fragrance with a squirt of this – it gives profound liveliness and fluorescent hues to the top notes. I love this on top of Habit Rouge (EdP).
Much like timeless French fashion, this is timeless French perfumery. It smells reminiscent of yesteryear, but certainly not overly dated. Thin like a gossamer vail. Simplicity is key.
Subjective rating : 3/5
Objective rating: 4/5