Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Couture, 2014

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Image Coming of Age by Elena Montemurro

Perfumer Thierry Wasser.

Guerlain have long followed the rule that it’s better to be good than to be first. Or at least it’s better to be the last one standing.  Coty Chypre created the genre that defined perfumery in the 20th century. Mitsouko copied the formula, improved it and is now the standard-bearer. Shalimar came on the heels of Coty Emeraude and a number of other huge vanillic/balsamic ambers that were popular at the time. It then surpassed them and became the model of the genre. Coty l’Origan, then Guerlain l’Heure Bleue.  Caron En Avion, then Guerlain Vol de Nuit. Even on the men’s side, Guerlain’s eponymous Vetiver followed Carven’s by four years.

The Fruitchouli genre is a somewhat restrained take on the egregious gourmands of late 1990s. The Fruitchouli’s emphasis on berry notes makes it technically gourmand in nature, but it is Gourmand 2.0. The questionable goal of smelling like a cupcake was toppled and ‘hints of (fill-in-the-blank) berry’ became the marketing catch-phrase. In 2009, late in the game, Guerlain entered the fray with La Petite Robe Noire eau de toilette. The reference Fruitchoulis by this time were already dead and gone. Badgely Mischka by Badgely Mischka was discontinued and Miss Dior Chérie had been thoroughly reformulated, flanked and renamed to the point of anonymity. Guerlain went the shell-game route of Miss Dior Chérie, quickly replacing its first version by Delphine Jelk with a similar version by Thierry Wasser, then releasing an eau de parfum. Then came the stream of flankers, each distinguished by a slightly different silhouette of a little black dress on the bottle. Most buyers don’t actually know which perfume they actually have.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture is the stand-out of the lot.  It is unmistakably a Fruitchouli, but rather than simply following the reduction of the genre (sweetness + berry flavor = perfume) that has become the norm, it benefits from Guerlain’s years of twisting patisserie into perfume. It shows its Guerlain DNA in an almost campy exaggeration of its predecessors. Mitsouko’s plum is prim next to La Petite Robe Noire Couture’s sweet berry cobbler, but the likeness is there.  La Petite Robe Noire Couture’s dark sweetness is a less restrained play on L’Heure Bleue’s bittersweet version of the floral oriental.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture’s real precedent, though, is Guerlain Insolence. Insolence was derided as a trite sweet floral that watered down the reputation of the brand. Guerlain’s smart move was to beat the criticism by going further over the top, creating Insolence Eau de Parfum. It was a monstrous, laughing fuck-you of a perfume that made critics of the original appear out of step and fussy. If La Petite Robe is considered just the next post-LVMH nail in Guerlain’s coffin (also said of l’Instant, Insolence, Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial and l’Homme Ideal) the Couture model wades further into the dogfight. The berry compote is simmered down to an even thicker consistency so that Couture’s sweetness is denser than the edt’s or edp’s. It even steals a page directly from Insolence with a touch of a hairspray note that gives Couture a defiantly ‘perfumey’ quality.

You thought the original Petite Robe Noire was a little déclassé for Guerlain?  Try Couture.  Modesty is for pussies.

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