The Wailing Wall… l’Heure Bleue by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

If sadness has a smell this may be it.

Not an ending unhappiness, you understand, nor mere momentary melancholy, this is an emotion, an experience profoundly and long felt that changes a life, perhaps millions of lives.

The first pain of loss comes quick, sharp and spicy. Coriander and anise compete in an anti-septic scratch that pierces the skin, just briefly, but leaves a scar.

Then a funereal majesty, the floral ceremonial heart of the fragrance.

A moving wall of irises, carnations, heliotrope and rose and more and more.

Favourite flowers of the deceased, the family, other mourners and florist adjutants pile up on top of one and other, wreaths placed on a royal catafalque.

As the procession passes by, a pocket square, scented with powder: sweet, resinous, vanilla-ed , is pressed into your hand by a stranger who wants to help you staunch your tears.

But still they flow.

The handkerchief, un-returned, is what you retain now.

Its silken regularity and honeyed smell transformed by grief to both momento and momento mori.

The reminder of a living love and the promise of otherworldly reunion.

That Jacques Guerlain should have known in 1912 that the sun was about to set on the bright days of the Edwardian age is inconceivable.

Yet, that his masterwork L’heure bleue for Guerlain, literally ‘The Blue Hour’ captures the faltering twilight between the bright and hopeful dawn of the twentieth century and the dark, dark night of the carnage of The Great War is equally unquestionable.

There is an opening of improvised antibacterials, of coriander and anise long known for their medicinal qualities.

What follows is not floral but floricultural.

Not a bouquet or even wreath but a field, fields of flowers a presentiment of Flanders’ poppies.

IMG_20130927_081837

And then powder, that is more like fine fragrant dust.

The dust that settles on carefully stored away mourning clothes. Clothes that will see more use than is right in the years ahead, in dignified response to unspeakable, as yet unforeseeable, loss .

It is that preservative smell; bezoin, clove, vanilla, a solitary scent of certainty, that will come through familiarity to breed comfort rather than contempt, that will come to make L’heure bleue the ultimate smell of solace.

Just like grief, and the consoling memories of the departed’s life, this is an emotion that sits as easily yet uncomfortably on men and women, young and old.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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33 Comments

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33 responses to “The Wailing Wall… l’Heure Bleue by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. Dear Mr Dandy,

    That is the saddest, most melancholy review I have ever read. I can almost hear the lone trumpet at the graveside. Can I borrow that hanky?

    Your tearful friend
    IScent

    PS Someone tell a joke.

  2. Mary E.

    Beautifully written–such a haunting scent!

  3. Lilybelle

    The smell of solace. L’Heure Bleue is that indeed. I love it, but it isn’t for everyday. It’s for those days I have the luxury of solitude and time to myself to indulge in haunting haunted fragrances and reminiscences. Just as well those days don’t come often, I suppose. What a beautifully embroidered handkerchief. It’s nice to see things like that – meticulously, lovingly handmade.

    • Dearest Lily
      I’m glad someone else takes a pleasure in the slowly, carefully made things of this world.
      The Dandy once did a course in bookbinding and made a hand sewn hard back book and slip cover from scratch once.
      It was one of the most pleasurable and nourishing experiences ever.
      It was also a lesson in patience and contemplation,
      A little like l’heure bleue… waiting for the sad flowers to pass so that comfort can come.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  4. Cheryl

    To capture such beauty with words and images is an art of such a soulful nature. I’m always delighted to see your link in my email, and today the reward was great.

    Thank you.

  5. An era, an art, a scent – solace, all in a bottle – almost inconceivable, but you did it. Very nicely done. xox, V

    • Dearest V
      Thank you.
      Hope all is well with the edit.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • On my third cup of tea, although somebody told me to lay off the caffeine at least 8 hours before bed… The edit progresses. I am beginning to think of the manuscript as a diabolical crossword puzzle.
        My mom was a Guerlain aficionado. Those scents all strike me now as beautifully melancholy, but that’s based solely on personal context.
        Hugs to you, V

      • Dearest V
        As subjectivity is our alibi for existence, there can be no context other than the personal.
        Enjoy the memories, melancholy and otherwise, these scents bring.
        As for manuscripts being crossword puzzles, oh yes and three d ones at that too.
        All the best for your endeavours.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  6. fleurdelys

    Your essay is beautiful, but I have never understood the description of L’Heure Bleue as a “melancholy” fragrance. It is a favorite of mine, and I look on it as a comfort scent. It settles warmly on my skin, its almondy cocoon the equivalent of wrapping myself in a cashmere throw and curling up in front of a fireplace with a good book, while snow falls outside. Or maybe its like a warm hug from a favorite relative. I feel cozy whenever and wherever I wear it!

    • Lilybelle

      Me, too. I find it very comforting, but it’s definitely haunting. Mitsouko strikes me as way more *melancholy* than L’Heure Bleue.

      • Mitsouko… yes, it has an inconsolable quality to it that l’heure bleue does not. Then I suppose it is a Tiresias perfume, all the horrors having been seen by the time it was created.
        L’heure bleue is more a meditative. Without the view of the precipice it can muster some comfort and hope.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

    • Dearest Fleur
      I think perhaps what I am grasping after here is a notion that sadness, when properly felt and thought through, is not such an awful thing, but actually consoling.
      ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’ may be only part of the story, grief might be a part of the love too.
      For this reason I do find the wall of flowers that marks l’heure bleue out in my might terrifically sad, but what follows afterwards, the heavenly heliotrope and cashmere of the third act is a work of succour.
      The sadness is a result of and therefore a part of the happiness that precedes it.
      Thank you for making me think.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

    • batkitty

      I couldn’t agree more–L’Heure Bleue puts me in a warm embrace. I can’t see it as sad, though it’s definitely thoughtful, but at the foundation it’s a truly comforting and emotionally intimate perfume. It quiets me, slows me down, causes me to linger and appreciate what a remarkable creation it is.

      • Dearest Batkitty
        I’m so intrigued by all the responses to this review… but in finding a common thread between them, your word ‘intimacy’ is perfect.
        It seems as though almost anyone who comes into contact with ‘l’heure bleue’ develops an intimate, personal, emotional relationship with it.
        And there can be no more powerful tribute to a work of art than that.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  7. Nena

    L’Heure Bleue is one of my favourite perfumes of all time, and if I had to pick only one scent to wear for the rest of my life, it would definitely be L’Heure Bleue.

  8. Gracious, how sorrowful! Lovely review, however. Am I the only one who wears L’Heure Bleue for comfort and softness? I adore it and though I feel it’s history, it is cozy and, well, happy for me.

  9. No wonder I do not like this perfume.
    Life is sad enough not to introduce an additional sorrow with a perfume.

  10. What a beautifully-curated selection of images to accompany L’Heure Bleue! It’s one of my favourites and I agree, it’s sad, and so very melancholic, along with its sister Après l’Ondée. A pity, though. Reformulations have turned this beauty into a screeching banshee 😦

    • Dearest Vagabond
      It’s true, Mitsouko and l’heure bleue are so often related to one and other, bracketing asthey do The Great War, but in perfume terms, the true next of kin probably is Apres l’Ondee.
      Yes, reformulations have worn away a little of the charm, but l’heure bleue, in the version I have (a few years old granted) does not yet scream at me.
      Perhaps my bottle will last me my days so I can avoid that awful experience.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  11. lovely review- I especially loved this : “Coriander and anise compete in an anti-septic scratch ..” LHB didn’t strike me as particularly sad, but now I want to wear it while reading your review,.:)

  12. jilliecat

    Your beautiful words and pictures brought tears to my eyes this morning. It’s such a timely review, too, with autumn leading us naturally to reflect and remember and with the commemorations of the wars and the departed taking place in this sad season. I will wear LHB today as a tribute to those gone, and as a thank you to you for reminding me of this thoughtful fragrance.

    • Dearest Jilliecat
      Apologies for the delayed response on The Dandy’s part… WordPress ate your wonderful words.
      You are so right, with autumn leaves falling, thoughts and minds turn to the commemorations to come.
      No doubt these reflections were on my mind.
      I hope your day spent in a prolonged l’heure bleue was wonderful.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

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