The House Guerlain Built
It’s been a busy season over at the landmark Guerlain flagship on the Champs-Elysées: A century after the building first opened, the French perfume house has unveiled a luxurious top-to-toe revamp courtesy of Peter Marino, a refresh that included annexing the old nightclub Montecristo next door and creating a restaurant called Le 68.
But that’s not all that’s new—or old, for that matter—chez Guerlain. The house is now celebrating the 160th anniversary of its famous gilded Bee bottle, which was created for the Empress Eugenie to contain her Eau de Cologne Impériale. It is also launching a Couture sequel (available in France March 2014) to its best-selling fragrance, La Petite Robe Noire. In a private walk-through, in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser discusses the storied brand’s new “homey” ambiance, from the food/fragrance connection to a heritage accessory revival—plus, what makes the newest Petite Robe Noire truly couture.
How do you describe the Guerlain flagship’s new ambiance?
When the Guerlain family built this building a century ago, it was a boutique, but it was also their home. We wanted the whole space to [feel] like a house: You can dine at the restaurant; write a postcard and mail it here; the perfume, beauty and skin care sections on the ground floor invite browsing; and the marble echoes the idea of wafts of fragrance—it just draws you in. Peter Marino’s attention to detail is amazing—there’s a shagreen banister that I love so much, I almost want to sleep next to it, right there on the stairs.
Upstairs, there’s still the tiered stand presenting the house library of creations, set amidst a rotating exhibition of historic perfume bottles and fragrance-inspired creations by contemporary artists. And if you want to take a nap, there’s always the spa on the third floor. It features an orchid garden, as well as works by Giacometti, Bérard and Jean-Michel Franck that were done for the original spa, which was the first in the world when it opened in 1939.
How did you and chef Guy Martin work together on the restaurant Le 68?
For the restaurant, there was just this instant connection: Guy is naturally curious and passionate about the seasons—at Guerlain we speak “seasons.” Basically, I said, this is who we are—185 years of fragrances—so just explore and do your thing. What I love is that with Shalimar, for example, everyone always talks about it as an oriental vanilla, but Guy seized on all its citrus notes and extrapolated it into a macaron with marmalade and a zing of bergamot. As it turns out, his mother wore Shalimar, so he understood immediately. He’s also [transformed] La Petite Robe Noire into a chocolate pastry. There are so many clever details—it’s a true feast.
What are the other new additions to the house?
Upstairs, there is a private salon for bespoke consultations, another space where bottles can be customized with ribbons, and a [room] where we’ve reintroduced limited-edition archival pieces like silk scarves, fans and perfumed gloves. When Guerlain was named official supplier to the Empress Eugenie, in 1853, it was also a gantier, or glove maker. I had to learn everything about leather treatment because if you miss the window for adding fragrance, it’s too late. My job was to find that moment. We did some gloves with Mitsouko, and others with La Petite Robe Noire, which is subtler.
Is there a story behind La Petite Robe Noire Couture?
This is La Petite Robe Noire’s glamorous sister; she’s the one who’s out there on the red carpet at night. She’s floral, fruity, bubbly, slightly eccentric and vivacious. You could say that the length has changed—there’s a different color and texture; it’s an evening gown. There’s still this gourmand and fruity character. The top note is sparkling because it’s like Oscar night, so I amped up the bergamot. But I emphasized its depth and presence with chypre to add mystery. My idea is not to create a collection, but rather, the woman who wears it has grown along with [the fragrance].
68 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, France, +33 1 45 62 52 57
Photos: Francois Goizé