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At the Guerlain shop a couple of months ago, we were greeted by enthusiastic staff who insisted we try the brand-new Exclusivs release, Lui. We listened politely to the their marketing spiel, how Lui** was “about the idea of a universal perfume… created to be free from the norms of gender…a combination of male and female…created with an ambiguous fragrance trail…based on benzoin…alternately floral, powdery, spicy or woody…”.

It crossed my mind that this wasn’t news for Guerlain, they’ve been creating non-gendered, ambiguous scents for almost two centuries, all of which I love and wear frequently - Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar, Vol de Nuit, Habit Rouge, Heritage. But I’m always up for something new so I held out my hand for a spritz, and  Wham! Right into my brain! It was created by Delphine Jelk, now Guerlain perfumer, with a little help from Guerlain Creative Director Thierrry Wasser.

Lui is about benzoin, the comforting sweet balsamic resin from the styrax tree that is similar to vanilla and makes amber smell like amber, smooth soft sweet and rounded. Benzoin is used as a fixative in fragrances, pulling notes together, creating texture in accords and filling in spaces with wafts of soft leather, sweet smoke, sanded polished woods. Benzoin is warm and comforting and powerful.

Guerlain lists the notes in Lui as carnation, balms, and leather but there’s much more going on. Other sites list benzoin, clove, pear, carnation, vanilla, white musk, smoke. The first sniff of my wrist is medicinal and plastic-y but this immediately sweetens with a delicious spicy-but-light clove carnation note, lifted up on a big wave of benzoin with smoky sandalwood facets. Powdery and spicy and floral in the best possible way, Lui settles in on my skin and begins to unwind.

Buttery dark vanilla joins with the spicy clove, adding warmth and texture and a little more sweetness into the heart, so that the carnation comes into full bloom, elegant and controlled, never heavy or sharp. In the dry-down, the carnation fades away when the benzoin kicks in full time, its balsamic nature creating a soft honeyed accord of velvety sueded leather, vanilla and musk, an accord which becomes surprisingly light and almost transparent. Accented with pale wafts of smoke, the sillage is intimate but lasts on skin for hours.

In the past week, I’ve tested Lui on my husband and myself and it definitely passes the non-gendered sniff test.  We both like it – a lot. Lui unfolds in a linear mode, pretty much in the order of the note list, but it’s not simple or boring by any means. A more true description is that the fragrance owns a seamless simplicity, an understated expensive elegance that I find extremely appealing. It has great warmth and smells really good, inviting, and comforting, and radiates a “lean-in” quality that fascinates me.

Lui is designed for our times. Not dark, or loud, or polarizing, the elements in Lui are ingeniously tuned to end in a soothing quietly powerful harmony, a little bit of art that I think we should experience frequently in our daily lives.

Notes: benzoin, clove, pear, carnation, vanilla, white musk, smoke

Type: EdP

Price: $7.00