digging (into) vintage: Guerlain Coriolan, 1998

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(image Jean Cocteau by Philippe Halsman, 1949)

Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain

I remembered Coriolan as a sort of mild fougère with a juniper note. It was part of a cohort of pretty masculines that got lost in the herd of aquatic sport fragrances of the 1990s and I misread it entirely.

Stupidly, I gave away my bottle of Coriolan, and have dwelled on the ghost memory of it since. I bought it again and realized that it’s not a weak fougère, but a blended a chypre. What I disliked when I viewed it as a fougère (timid, finicky) is what makes it so pleasant as a chypre (subtle, peculiar).

It is harmonious from start to finish. There are no elbows jutting out. The bitterness of the bergamot and moss is balanced by a sweet, silvery quality from the juniper. The herbal quality doesn’t seem culinary, rather, it adds a textured aromatic quality. The blended quality could be read as noncommital or comfortable depending on your perspective. It occupies some of the harmonious woody range of the masculine Amouages that it preceded (Ciel, Silver, Dia)  but is more soft-spoken.

1998 was a year of transition for mainstream masculine perfumes and Coriolan was likely obscured by the long shadow of Cartier Déclaration. Coriolan struggled, eventually to be discontinued, then flushed thought the Guerlain marketing department and reincarnated at twice the price as a limited edition called Chamade pour Homme (1999) and eventually as the even costlier l’Ame d’un Héros (2008) in les Parisiens line.

I’m dumbstruck by Guerlain’s spin, but I appreciate the recycling of a good idea that wasn’t initially recognized by the buying public. Also, credit for thematic continuity: Coriolan (Roman general) to Chamade (military drum-beat) to l’Ame d’un Héros (a hero’s soul.)

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