Tonka Impériale by Guerlain

I’m a real prune sometimes. Why would Guerlain need to release a tonka fragrance when it’s Jicky’s main note or a key player already in their oriental creations?  Jicky in the Eau de Parfum concentration is beautifully delectable, rounded and warm focussing predominantly on the tonka bean. Tonka beans are rich with coumarin, and has a delicious odour of sweetness, with dry grass in the background and a slightly nutty aspect. Whilst coumarin is universal in most oriental or gourmand fragrances adding a moreish depth, when it is the key player it morphs depending on how it is utilised and treated with the other notes in its accord.

Jicky highlights Tonka’s marzipan facet, whilst Guerlain’s L’Homme Ideal blends it with bitter almonds to emphasise the roasted and nutty facet. Tonka Impériale, with its particular attention to tonka bean, stretches the aromatic profile of tonka and extends the features of coumarin to make it more aromatic with a more generous disposition, lending itself freely to the spectrum of florals, spices, herbs, legumes, and citruses. Tonka Impériale is modern Guerlain. It is a sort of Jicky reworked with greater contrast, more readily accepted by the modern palette.

Tonka Imperiale by Guerlain © 2015 Liam Sardea

© 2015 Liam Sardea


Whilst it is fairly obvious that the Tonka Bean is the key subject in this fragrance, I get a very rich dousing of rosemary too. Tonka alone is beautifully rich, but can present itself as a rich dessert after an already filling meal. To counteract this, in a style similar to Guerlain’s previous masculine L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, they treat it with a light touch, paradoxically adding more ingredients to make it less rich. The opening for example, whilst it is certainly loaded with delicious tonka, is equally loaded with this beautifully aromatic rosemary note, titivated with buttery almonds, cut with bergamot, and blended into one with vanilla, amber, the lightness of aldehydes, and the creamy flecks of jasmine. This entire symphonic progression alone happens in a matter of moments highlighting the complexity of this creation, bringing everything back to the main focal point of tonka bean.

Consider this a perfect circle: corner-less, approachable and equal from all angles. The tendency of gourmand ingredients to go haywire is sharply put into cohesion, rooted with tobacco with fragility akin to glass through using honey. I believe the jasmine used here is imperative too, giving lift against the humid notes.

I believe however that the opening flourish is grand and inspiring, and this altogether stands on top of a fairly rigid base accord of woods and resins. The vanilla trails throughout, adding unctuosity mimicking the trickling nature of honey. The notes here serve to place tonka in domain, and do not exist as their own special accords. I am overall pleased by this fragrance’s approach at archetypical orientalism done in 2D – which is to simplify and bolster accordingly, and approach the gourmand classing but never go there, only faintly calling to mind chocolates, caramels, and pastry. In particular, during the drydown I get a strong gingerbread spice vibe, perhaps symbolising a dreamy pine christmas warmed with liquors like cognac and brandy.

Considering this, I will claim that the tonka note here is marvellously done, rivalling even the paternal Jicky from 1889 (or is maternal more appropriate?). I also admire balance in perfume and great contrasts, and I get that strongly here; despite Tonka Impériale’s linear progression, only developing a minute spiced character alongside the warmth of olibanum, cedar, and incense. This fact in particular does make way for a possibly dully perceived fragrance, but if you can take pleasure for what it is (being an expensive French perfume), then by all means go for it!

Alternatives: L’Homme Ideal by Guerlain; and Jicky by Guerlain.

Guerlain recalls its zenith. An outstanding tonka note. Guerlain does something right (this time)! 

Subjective rating : 3.5/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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