Of all the widely distributed fragrance brands, Guerlain is my favourite. It’s obvious that it was started by a perfumer and not a fashion house that eventually launched a beauty line. Guerlain has 193 years of history and it shows. Their shop in Champs Élysées dates back to 1914 and it’s an ode to sensorial beauty that is, in my opinion, a what-to-see must in Paris.
I visited early December 2021, and as so, the windows where decorated for Christmas and it was absolutely gorgeous. Gold and white seemed to be the Christmas theme of every luxury designer store in Paris – Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Gold lighting over a white snowy background. Gold trims in white ornaments. Gold bows on white boxes. I guessed that’s the colour of rich people’s Christmas, and that makes entire sense as I’m sitting here staring at my yet-to-be-torn-down Christmas tree that’s an amalgam of different coloured ornaments – there is a teapot made of three different plaid patterns, a Santa dressed in leopard print, and a porcelain teddy bear sitting on a glass bubble (I like to think he ate soap).
I hesitated before entering because I was looking to have a guided tour of the store but couldn’t find anything about it on the website, the shop was conducting business like usual, and the sharply dressed doorman was not making direct eye contact. But then again this store carries the entire Guerlain line (makeup and everything) so even if there was no visit, I was bound to find something that I would like to bring home.
Thirty seconds in the marbled entry room and we were greeted by a very French, very hard working at speaking english sales lady. I really appreciated the effort. I told her how much I loved Guerlain (I was a bit of a fangirl, not my proudest moment) and we immediately started talking about fragrances. We moved into the adjacent room where Guerlain’s entire commercial line was. It’s a modern space, still elegant, but not exactly with the same old time charm that the entry room has.
I wanted to bring something to my mother (another scent lover) who really likes Shalimar before it deteriorates – one thing I’ll say about Guerlain’s perfumes is keep them out of the light and heat, the scent turns rather quickly. The sales lady shows me Shalimar Millésime Vanilla Planifolia, a new, limited edition version of Shalimar that according to her, is closer to the original created in1925. I tested it and it was warm, powdery and vintage – everything me and my mother loved. Yep, one to go, wrapped up and ready for Christmas. I might be reviewing it in the future.
Next, it was my time to look for something for myself and I mentioned I like the violet scent of the Météorites powder pearls. She showed me two scents. The first was too floral and aggressive to me. The second one, I took a sniff and Eau my god my nose left Paris and went straight to heaven. Well hello, old friend.
L’Instant Magic is probably my personal favourite of all time from Guerlain, and the house selfishly stopped selling it outside of Paris (at least, it’s what she told me). It’s everything divine about a vintage scent but with a strong youthful imprint. I’ll certainly make a review about it, now that I know it didn’t actually disappeared, it just got exclusive. Another one in the bag, literally.
She then kindly asked, “Anything for the gentleman?” Smart girl. I was in the spending mood and she knew it. Well, she was 2 for 2 so far, so she clearly understood my tastes. My husband wasn’t really looking for a new perfume but might as well, this could be interesting. She introduced us to the Absolus d’Orient Collection.
I had been eyeing the bottles already. She sprayed a bit of Santal Royal, the black bottle, and ooh la la that is a man you want to smell. The lady was on fire! My husband was on the fence about it but I had already not-so-silently made the decision for him. She showed us more scents that I didn’t even bother to know the name – they weren’t bad, but they were more generic, more commercial, less special, and I just said that if he didn’t want to wear it, I would. It’s a masculine scent for sure, but there’s this fantastic creaminess to it that I never saw in a man’s fragrance before, and I just needed to have it. Good thing husband came around, he wears it now (the enthusiastic compliments from the rest of the family when we came back home might’ve helped).
Since I was so curious about the line I tried a few other scents from the Absolus d’Orient line (Cuir Intense is leather encapsulated, really interesting as well), but I was done with my haul. She filled my bag with samples and a makeup bag (so sweet) and as I was paying, I remembered the reason I was actually there for and asked about the visit. Turns out yes, it is still a thing: it costs 75€ and lasts about an hour, it can be done in French or in English, and you have to send an email requesting it ahead of time, unfortunately for me. But she offered to give me a tiny 15 minute tour and show me the second floor so I wouldn’t leave without seeing it. Excellent customer service.
We went back to the original marble entry room, where Guerlain’s signature bee patterned bottle was displayed all over. It was created in mid 19th century for Empress Eugénie and since then, the bee has been the emblem for Guerlain. It’s symbolic of royalty, and very fitting, since Pierre Guerlain was appointed the official perfumer of the empress. You can choose to have any scent in this signature fragrance bottle and have it personalised and engraved – for a price, of course.
On a corner next to the stairs, there was an apothecary-like drawer cabinet that I would have either ordered a copy (if they made it) or stolen (if it wasn’t attached to the wall). Also an original piece.
Before we went up, she pointed to the floors. The marble they were made of was chosen specifically because the veining looked like a drawing of something I already mentioned became a symbol for Guerlain. Can you see it in the picture below?
We go up the stairs to the first floor where L’Institut Guerlain resides, a luxury spa and treatment facility, but has we entered we are presented with a museum worthy centre display of their L’Art & La Matière collection. This is a refined space with several more intimate rooms, and to the left of the stairs, there is an extensive display of Guerlain’s original vintage bottles throughout the years.
I also noticed some gorgeous, vintage pieces of art that I confirmed are lipstick and travel perfumes cases (pictured below). Again, something I would unashamedly steal if I could. I came to find out later with a bit of research that House Guerlain was actually the inventor of bullet lipstick cases. You know, the typical ones were we rotate the case to get the lipstick to rise up. It was 1870 and “Ne m’Oubliez Pas” was its name. No, I certainly won’t forget it.
I took photos of all the vintage bottles (there were a lot) but I’m not going to put them all here, it wouldn’t be fair to the store. We stay for a bit longer taking in the beauty of the place, and I leave feeling a little bit magical.
There is so much about Guerlain history that can be told (glamour, war, infatuations, misogyny) but I’ll save that for when I go back to Paris and have the official guided visit (and get an extra Santa Royal for my father. Seriously, it was a hit). Until then, I’ll bask in the photos and the scents I brought home with me.