digging (into) vintage: Guerlain Nahema, 1979

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(image Anthony Wayne as Sylvester)

Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain

Nahema smells like a rose the way Paco Rabanne’s Metal smells like green flowers, which is to say scarcely at all. Some fall on the side of Nahema being a virtual rose or an implied rose. Some see it as the real deal. I see the parts, but I don’t see the rose. Not a complaint, mind you. I love Nahema. I see it as the spiritual predecessor to Gucci Rush. It’s Rush’s disco auntie.

Apparently Jean-Paul Guerlain took advantage of new-at-the-time aromachemicals that were used elsewhere to amplify and extend actual rose. In Nahema’s case, they create a perfume of crystalline flowery fruit with a deeply languorous, resinous core. Truth be told, Nahema smells like a peachy iris on a base of Guerlain’s earlier stunner Chamade. The heartnotes are like Chamade’s, but stoned and giggling.

I have a vintage bottle of Nahema from 1980 and it is sultry and voluptuous in a way that seems scandalous for a Guerlain perfume. Guerlain’s previous release was the priggish Parure in 1975, which seemed intransigently out of touch with progressive social trends of the 1970s. Nahema’s hedonistic disposition is so far from Parure’s that there is a sense of retaliation to it. I have to imagine that Nahema’s salaciousness gave the vapors to a number of Guerlain’s vielle garde, but I imagine a good number also secretly relished its subversion and indulgence. Guerlain may have come late to the licentious ’70s, but they made up for it with one of the more decadent florals of the decade.

I have another bottle of Nahema EDP from some time around 2010 and it is sensational. I give Thierry Wasser full marks for a smart, targeted reformulation. I expect that reformulation was required due to restrictions on materials. Wasser might have had to limit materials but he didn’t repress the debauched soul of the perfume one iota. The rather chemical nature of Nahema, the original and the currrent, allows the fragrance to be focused on abstract qualities. Nahema isn’t so much floral and fruity as it is glassy and shimmering and its crystalline upper register is about an inch from shrill. These qualities give it excitement and vibrance. Does it simulate a rose? Not to me. Is it a blast to wear? Every single time.

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