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L’Heure Bleue – Don’t worry, be happy - (Monday, April 16, 2012 New Fragrance Listing)

Photo - Wikipedia Commons - Blue Hour in Paris - Kedellar, Feb 18, 2012

People often speak of perfumes as evoking a time or place – the ‘this-scent- reminds-me-of a-lady-in-an-English-garden-in-the-nineteenth-century’ sort of thing. However, few perfumes were designed to evoke a mood the way L’Heure Bleue was.

L’Heure Bleue is a French expression for the distinctive blue quality of light at twilight - that time of day just before nightfall or dawn, when one part of the day ends but before another begins. It’s a transition time that often brings on, well, the blues.

It was also Jacques Guerlain’s favourite time of day. According to the Guerlain website, ‘L’Heure Bleue was born in 1912 of the fleeting sensation that inspired the Impressionist painters whose works Jacques Guerlain collected’. L’Heure Bleue perfume captures this mood so well that many reviewers refer to the frag as “sad” or “melancholy”.

Frankly, it was this tendency to melancholy that kept me from trying L’Heure Bleue for so long. Silly, I know, but if I wanted to make myself gloomy, I’d look at pictures of my slim, tanned, taut, footloose, fancy-free, not-a-gray-hair-in-sight twenty year-old self, and it wouldn’t cost me a penny!

Then, do you what happened? Guess. Go on, guess. Yep, that’s right I sniffed it. And, when I didn’t burst into tears, or flames, I kept sniffing it cause it smelled so good. And when my decant was finished, I knew I couldn’t live without it and bought a bottle, cause it makes me happy to wear it.
Wait a minute. Roll the tape back. I didn’t burst into tears? L’Heure Bleue didn’t make me sad? My prescription hasn’t changed, so I suspect it has to do with the reformulation of the fragrance.

L’Heure Bleue was the first Guerlain perfume to contain aldehydes – that chemical je ne sais quoi, that gives perfumes a distinctive sparkling, effervescent  quality.

This is important because aldehydes, like many other synthetic molecules such as ionones, coumarin and vanillin, were created by chemists in the first ten years of the twentieth century and their creation really changed the course of perfumery.

As Jean-Claude Ellena says in his book, ‘Perfume, The Alchemy of Scent’, “While the chemists sought primarily to understand nature, the perfumers experienced the use of synthetic products as a release from the compulsory reference to “nature’ opening up new creative possibilities.”  Hello mood-evoking L’Heure Bleue.

While synthetics opened up a new creative world for perfumers, aldehydes alone aren’t the reason for the schwermut of L’Heure Bleue. It’s the entire composition – plush, lush, warm and powdery, it recalls not just the blue hour, but an era past, one that is sadly, gone. Forever. Like the day that ends at twilight.

Is it a true masterpiece, a monument in the history of perfumery? Undoubtedly. Is it amazing? Well, Luca Turin gives it five stars. Is it for me? Not so much. I have a small stash of the vintage, but I prefer the newer model which still evokes that tender time of day, that hush, when the world trembles on the brink of a new dawn or a new night, only this version seems less weighed down by the past.

It opens with fresh, citrusy bergamot and the licorice sweetness of aniseed. Sigh. I feel happy already! At the heart, carnation gives it a floral note, along with a warm spiciness from the clove aspect of the flower. It also rounds out the neroli by taming its harsh bitterness. Iris and violet heighten the floral aspects and also add a powderiness, that adds it depth but doesn’t age the fragrance. It’s the drydown that makes me reach for the defibrillator – all of this rests on a base of sweet, exotic vanilla, resinous, balsamy benzoin and Tonka bean with its chocolate/vanilla duality.

The result is a rich, refined, romantic fragrance with a warm sensuality that was made for a woman’s skin.

Pass the paddles please!

L’Heure Bleue is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $6.00 for 1 ml.