Strains of Guerlain’s heritage float like olfactory ghosts over a banker wearing pinstripes in a wood-paneled boardroom. As he sits in conservative elegance and restrained reserve, the Ghosts of Guerlain Past move over him via Jicky‘s aromatic lavender creaminess and Habit Rouge‘s citrus cologne opening that lies atop slightly leathered, balsamic resins. There is also the Ghost of Guerlain Future in the form of L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, as well as strains of a fragrance created years later by a Guerlain family member for another company entirely. This is Jean-Paul Guerlain‘s Heritage, both the name of the actual fragrance and an intentional, symbolic encapsulation of parts of Guerlain’s past.
Heritage (officially spelled with an accent as “Héritage“) is actually meant to feel familiar on some levels. The fragrance was created in 1992 by Jean-Paul Guerlain and, according to the unaffiliated website, Monsieur Guerlain, he intentionally sought to combine some of the most beloved parts of various Guerlain classics into one scent, but to push the limits even further,by “playing on the whole legendary Guerlain scent repertoire.” At the time, it was probably an inventive idea; there weren’t endless flankers back in 1992, and the call-backs to Guerlain’s Jicky and Habit Rouge subtly swirled in a sea of other notes that helped to make Heritage a singular character in its own right. I remember smelling the fragrance shortly after its release, and finding it elegant but also very interesting. People sometimes reference bankers when talking about Heritage, and it definitely gave off that vibe, but what a chic, pinstriped banker he was and how he dominated the room with his complex, powerful presence.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Heritage has held up well to the passage of time. What was fresh and new back in 1992 feels dated now. Heritage’s themes may have predated and inspired the use of the same accords in the future, 2006 L’Instant de Guerlain (as well as perhaps Patricia de Nicolai‘s 2014 Amber Oud), but its successor has outshone Heritage, especially in terms of popularity. Heritage may have been the original, but it doesn’t feel that way. The crux of the problem is that reformulation has stripped Heritage of its true identity — a very complex, spicy fragrance centered on woody notes atop an oakmoss and slightly leathery, amber base — and left behind only the strains of other creations. It no longer feels distinctive, and that becomes a small problem given Heritage’s very buttoned-up conservatism. It’s still elegant, but it’s been overly simplified now to something much more boring. The powerful titan of industry in his mahogany boardroom has now become middle management.
When Heritage was released in 1992, it came in both eau de toilette and eau de parfum formulations. According to the unaffiliated Monsieur Guerlain website, it was the first time that Guerlain gave men a choice of both options right away: “men were introduced to the intenser Eau de Parfum concept, hitherto reserved for feminine fragrances.” My review is solely for the current, modern, Eau de Parfum version, though I’ll briefly talk about the Eau de Toilette and its minor differences much later.
On its website, Guerlain describes Heritage as follows:
Refined, warm, authentic.
The exuberant freshness of lemon and bergamot top notes meets an aromatic breeze of lavender. Then, the heart is enriched with fresh, spicy notes such as coriander and pink pepper. Finally, with the patchouli there emerges a rich, oriental woody dry-down.
Inspired by yesterday’s generations, Héritage is a fragrance dedicated to the men of tomorrow. [¶] It opens with aromatic freshness, succeeded by the subtlety of a warm spicy accord on a woody dry-down with shades of the orient.
Inspired by Foucault’s pendulum, the bottle and its spherical cap evoke through their architecture the passage of time and the solidity of tradition.
The complete list of notes, at least for the original 1992 version, is available at Fragrantica:
Top: aldehydes, juniper berries, lavender, green notes, violet, clary sage, petitgrain, bergamot, lemon;
Middle: cyclamen, coriander, carnation, patchouli, pepper, balsam fir, orris root, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose, geranium and pink pepper;
Base: sandalwood, amber, musk, oakmoss and cedar.
26 notes! Few things make me happier, perfume wise, than massive note lists. It’s the way fragrances used to be, filled with nuances and little olfactory facets peeking out of every nook and cranny. None of this modern business of a measly 5 or 6 elements and, in some cases (like Montale), frequently only 3 for the most simplistic, linear bouquet around. God, I miss massive perfume lists so much. Merely looking at the abundance of possibilities on Fragrantica’s list put me in a good mood. That said, Monsieur Guerlain has a substantially shorter list that diverges quite dramatically from what is mentioned on Fragrantica. There are no florals whatsoever; no aldehydes, clary sage, juniper, or sandalwood, either. However, he does include tonka and vanilla instead.
Heritage opens on my skin with a powerful burst of lavender that is aromatic and fresh, but also creamy, dried, sweet, and occasionally a bit medicinal. On its heels is a deeply spicy brown patchouli, followed by an aromatic blend of herbs, a wisp of greenness, and amber. For a moment, the latter feels surprisingly meaty and musky, as well as having a caramel undertone, but those nuances fade away within a minute or two, leaving only golden warmth. On the sidelines, there are tiny bursts of bergamot and the suggestion of soft woodiness.
A light veil of abstract spices is sprinkled over the whole thing, but the main impression is of creamy, aromatic lavender. Thanks to hefty amounts of tonka, the plant’s more pungent, medicinal aspects are muffled or dulled, and the scent verges on lavender ice-cream instead. That immediately made me think of Amber Oud by Jean-Paul Guerlain’s niece and one-time protegé, Patricia de Nicolai. The difference here is that Heritage has a strong “cologne” and barbershop vibe in the opening, so it’s actually closer at first to the original inspiration for both fragrances, Jicky. I think the clary sage is partially responsible, though it lacks the heavy soap lather that the plant sometimes manifests. Actually, to my surprise, there is little to no soapiness at all, despite the inclusion of both clary sage and aldehydes at the top of the Fragrantica note list.
Modern Heritage demonstrates subtle nuances, but they all feel very amorphous. There are spicy, aromatic, woody, and oriental threads woven into the primary tapestry, but they feel very abstract. For example, there is an occasional whiff of cedar and, in one test, there was a momentary glimpse of the fir, but the notes are usually subsumed into a general “woody” streak. The floral and spicy notes are even more lumped together in a blur. At no point have I ever been able to detect the coriander, muguet, cyclamen, or jasmine in a strongly delineated, individual, or powerful fashion. Once, I thought I picked up a whiff of spicy, clove-like, peppery carnation, but it was so muffled and minor that I may well have imagined it.
10 minutes into its development, Heritage shifts. The chewy, meaty, caramel-nuanced amber disappears, but its general warmth is amplified by growing waves of patchouli. At the same time, the bergamot becomes increasingly prominent up top, while a quiet hint of leathery, balsamic resin stirs in the base. At times, there is a sharpness to the aromatic lavender, despite the creaminess of the Guerlain tonka base, and I think it’s largely due to the bergamot which is woven throughout and which only grows stronger with time. The overall result feels like a mash-up of Jicky‘s creamy tonka-lavender with Habit Rouge‘s bright, barbershop, bergamot opening and its Shalimar-esque leathery, balsamic, vanilla base.
Yet, the strong streak of spicy patchouli along with the bergamot, abstract woods, and the hint of something like chai tea in the creamy base also remind me strongly of L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. To be precise, something midway between the brighter, crisper, more floral LIDG eau de toilette and the spicier, more patchouli-heavy LIDGE Eau Extreme versions. (Both versions are reviewed in the link above.) Heritage preceded L’Instant de Guerlain by 14 years, but there is definite kinship between the two fragrances, driven in part by the significant amounts of patchouli in the Jicky lavender-tonka accord. In my most recent tests of Heritage, though, what I thought of above all else was Nicolai’s 2014 Amber Oud. I’d always thought Jean-Paul Guerlain’s niece had been influenced by Jicky to combine the best-known part of that fragrance with spicy patchouli, fleck it with a sliver of woodiness, and then encase it in golden warmth. Now, I realise the connection is to the woodier Heritage, though with less spiciness and without the Habit Rouge cologne vibe of the opening.
It wasn’t always this way. I think the differences were much greater once upon a time, because my memory of Heritage was of a strongly woody scent offset by greenness from quite a bit of oakmoss. There wasn’t so much tonka creaminess, and the scent had a significantly darker and more heavily golden aura as a whole. I think I also remember spicy carnation, geranium, and some Mysore sandalwood, too, though the latter was the smallest of touches. Unfortunately, the EU’s virtual ban on any meaningful amount of oakmoss in fragrances these days, as well as the limits on the eugenol that constitutes things like carnation and the scarcity of Mysore, has essentially made old Heritage impossible.
What I don’t understand, though, is why the woodiness is so weak in general. Consider Monsieur Guerlain’s description of Heritage as it was at the time of its release:
Jean-Paul Guerlain knew how to build testosterone into opulence. In Habit Rouge, it was fox-hunting and car leather upholstery, in Héritage the luxurious odour of cedarwood cigar boxes, complete with mahogany desk, pinstripe suit and leather-bound encyclopaedias.
Cedar isn’t part of the EU/IFRA’s current hit-list like oakmoss or HICC (lily of the valley), so why is there so little woodiness in Heritage? After 30 minutes, the note does grow into something vaguely approximating cedar on occasion, but it’s extremely nebulous and hazy. Once in a blue moon, in the background, for a brief second here or there, there is a nuance of hamster cage cedar shavings, but it’s an incredibly fleeting, minor thing. Generally, the spicy woodiness seems to have more to do with the patchouli’s innate characteristics than any actual cedar. As for the “cigar boxes” in Monsieur Guerlain’s 2008 review, there isn’t a whiff of tobacco on my skin. And mahogany or sandalwood? Forget about it. There isn’t even the vague, generic beige woods of modern perfumery. Heritage’s creaminess on my skin has more to do with coumarin and tonka than anything even remotely reminiscent of sandalwood or darker woods.
The Heritage of my memories was a complex thing. I may not recall the extent of all its nuances from 22 years ago, but it certainly was not a simple bouquet that was primary lavender-tonka creaminess infused with citrusy barbershop cologne tonalities, patchouli, and nebulous woods, all tied together by the thinnest ribbon of lightly oriental ambered warmth.
It’s really a shame, though I do want to stress that modern Heritage isn’t a bad scent by any means. Not at all. It’s has the effortless chic and polished, raffiné elegance that all the old, original Guerlain fragrances had (unlike those from the modern era like the terrible, banal L’Homme Idéal from last year). But Heritage also feels boring now, a representation of elegant solidity than anything truly interesting with multi-faceted layers. As I said earlier, it’s middle management instead of the chairman of the board.
It doesn’t help that the new Heritage is also quite a linear scent. Its core essence doesn’t change in any substantial way at all. All that happens is that the existing handful of elements fluctuate in their strength or prominence. One big example is the patchouli. It grows stronger with every passing hour, turning Heritage woodier and spicier in feel. There are occasional bursts of anise that pop up from the base, but they’re generally subsumed into the citric freshness. Speaking of which, the bergamot’s sharpness eventually weakens by the end of the 2nd hour, but Heritage’s citrus cologne vibe actually seems greater than before, at least from a distance. From afar, the smell is especially basic and uncomplicated: a very traditional citrusy cologne, infused with a touch of aromatic lavender. Up close, the lavender, tonka, and spicy patchouli are more central, but the bergamot often carries in distance more than the other notes.
As time passes, Heritage’s notes continue to get hazier, overlapping and losing some of their individual clarity. By the end of the 3rd hour, Heritage is a blur centered primarily on creamy lavender, patchouli, and abstract woods, streaked with bergamot and resting atop the Guerlainade base of tonka infused with tiny bits of anise and a wisp of barely leathered, balsamic resins. By the start of the 7th hour, the abstract woodiness takes over from the lavender, turning Heritage is a sliver of woody, spicy creaminess with some sweetness and lingering traces of patchouli, as well as something vaguely aromatic. In its final hour, Heritage devolves into mere spicy sweetness with a trace of creaminess and woodiness.
Heritage had good sillage and longevity on my skin. Using 3 good smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection. Yet, that number seems to grow, as does the sillage scent trail. About 1.75 hours in, Heritage wafted about 6-7 inches in radius, even if all its notes or layers were not distinct from that distance and it merely seemed like a citrusy, spicy, vaguely woody and aromatic cologne. By the 2.5 hour mark, though, Heritage’s projection had dropped to about 2.5 inches above the skin where it stayed for a while. The fragrance only turned into a skin scent at the end of the 6th hour, and it lasted just over 9.75 hours in total.
As noted at the start of this review, Heritage was issued in both eau de toilette and eau de parfum form, and it’s worth spending a bit of time on the former for a few reasons. First, each scent has a slightly different focus, though it’s subtle and mostly a question of degree. Second, Heritage is supposedly unavailable in America in the eau de parfum form described here. For some reason, Guerlain does not officially sell it here, and a number of old reviews state that it was impossible to obtain in America. That may have been the case once, but I’ve actually found Heritage Eau de Parfum available at a few places in the U.S., and at a sharp discount to boot. (See, Details section at the end.)
Nevertheless, let’s talk about the differences, starting with the review from Monsieur Guerlain which dates back to 2008. He wrote, in relevant part, as follows:
Although it’s basically the same fragrance, the higher doses of benzoin, tonka bean, oakmoss and vanilla in the latter make a huge difference: they add a tremendous golden warmth and depth, and a smooth, poised burnish with no air between the notes. Some men might prefer the EdT, after all the conservative choice in terms of masculinity: more shaving-soap and cool, and full of earth and cigar box.
Reformulation. The adjustments effected in Héritage are due to mandatory removal of oakmoss. The defining spicy warmth is still there, but where one in the first batches found a certain damp sensation of salty seashore and driftwood broiling in the sun, there is today something slightly more clear and fresh.
He recommends the Eau de Parfum version discussed here “for its amber suaveness,” but I also note that he singles out the 1990s EDP above all else. (Because it really was so much better, especially as compared to the most recent version that I’m reviewing. Find it on eBay if you can.)
Back in 2010, The Non-Blonde found Heritage to be great in eau de parfum form, as well as a unisex fragrance after the initial lavender opening had passed. She writes about her issues with the reformulated EDT, and how she thinks Luca Turin must have been talking about the EDP in The Guide when he stated that Guerlain’s “masculine” designation felt quite “arbitrary” because Heritage is (or was) primarily a woody-ambery fragrance. She describes the EDT as “mostly pale lavender and dry wood over the typical but diluted Guerlain base,” and thought it felt pointless given how she had plenty of vintage Jicky, Shalimar, and Habit Rouge. But she says explicitly that “the eau de parfum is a different story.” She writes, in part, as follows:
Other than the opening that might scare away women who have an aversion to lavender, Héritage could have easily re-bottled, labeled and marketed as a feminine fragrance. I happen to enjoy lavender and the way the opening with its herbal accords morphs into a delicate spice-floral-wood phase that lures you in. There’s a certain sophistication in this process because it doesn’t use the typical “hit you on the head with pastry” Guerlain technique- not that I mind the pastry and I admit I fall for it every time, from Cuir Beluga through Elixirs Charnel to Tonka Imperial. But there’s something about Heritage that is almost restrained (at least in comparison) and makes me stop and remind myself what I’m wearing as I catch whiffs of it throughout the day.
The drydown is still very much Guerlain with the familiar ambery base of vanilla, tonka bean and warm sandalwood. But Héritage never crosses the line into the realms of yummy and remains dry enough to appeal to both men and women.
A year later, in 2011, Kevin at Now Smell This also called Heritage “unisex,” but said that he preferred the modern (then 2011) eau de parfum to the vintage formulation. His review covers both EDT and EDP versions, however, as well as how Heritage used to be. He writes, in relevant part, as follows:
Héritage opens with lots of bergamot and lavender, a creamy, not astringent, blend. As the scent dries on skin, lavender becomes more noticeable and herbal. Pepper and coriander notes are subdued but add a “gleam” to the perfume. Héritage’s heart and base are almost ‘one’; after its opening, Héritage heads directly to its destination: a shimmering, “golden” amber composed of balmy cedar, a touch of musk, patchouli and vanilla (with some lingering lavender). Héritage is a well-gauged/low-impact scent — there is no startling “blast-off” and there is no bumpy landing. […][¶]
Héritage Eau de Parfum is not stronger or longer lasting than Héritage Eau de Toilette (on my skin, it faded faster than the Eau de Toilette version). Héritage Eau de Parfum is more opaque, ‘dense’, and less bright than Eau de Toilette (it is sunset to Eau de Toilette’s mid-afternoon). Héritage reminds me of Jicky (creamy bergamot/lavender and musk), L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme (the smoooooth and sexy base notes) and Habit Rouge (reduce Habit Rouge on the stove till all its effervescence evaporates). Héritage can be worn year-round and, to my nose, is unisex.
If my memory is correct, Héritage, in the 1990s, had more strength, more presence than today’s version; wearing “old” Héritage was a statement. Today’s Héritage is downright coy compared to the perfume I remember, but it still smells really good. Over the years I’ve gotten smarter when it comes to perfume (common sense trumped impetuousness). Héritage has shed its power suit and put on jeans, a T-shirt, and cardigan (all expertly tailored and stylish). To my tastes, Héritage is more appealing than it used to be — even as it’s become thinner and lost some stamina. [Emphasis in the original NST text.]
I agree with many of the differences that Kevin points out, though I suspect that Heritage is even more stripped down now than back when he tried it in 2011. I doubt Guerlain ceased its reformulations, particularly given the increasingly draconian nature of the EU/IFRA restrictions suggested by the SCCS in 2012. It explains why the pepper and coriander are nonexistent on me, not to mention the cedar being a ghost of its former self. In short, Heritage is even more “low-impact” than ever before.
Where I part from Kevin is in other areas. Unlike him, I do not prefer the changes to the scent. Heritage may feel more casual or easy to wear now, but the power suit of its origins is what made it stand out. It wasn’t supposed to be a scent that fit jeans and t-shirts! Jean-Paul Guerlain would probably be aghast at the thought. That said, I personally don’t think Heritage is such a fragrance, even now. (Thank God.) It retains enough of its elegant classicism to still be quite a formal, buttoned-up scent, one better versed for tailored suits or more conservative occasions. (I would have said conservative workplaces as well, but I think the sillage remains too great for today’s anti-fragrance office environment, unless you only apply a little or you really are the chairman of the board.)
I also don’t think Heritage is all that unisex, at least not at the start. I think the very cologne-like, barbershop lavender and citrus of the opening will be too masculine for the average woman’s tastes, unless they really love lavender, but Heritage does eventually segue into something more unisex in nature. To be honest, L’Instant de Guerlain in EDT or LIDG form is the one that feels truly genderless with its creamy chai tea notes and jasmine, and that would be the one that I would recommend to most women. For those with more oriental tastes and a greater appreciation for spices, I would suggest the fantastic LIDGE Eau Extreme EDP version which I think is wonderful. In contrast, Heritage I would recommend to men, namely those who are looking for a polished, warmer, smoother, and more upscale version of a designer’s mainstream aromatic, woody-spicy cologne.
The handful of Fragrantica reviews for Heritage EDP are all from 2014, are generally from men, and are very positive. The lone woman commentator calls it “amazing” and “retro,” but she’s an exception. (I doubt most women try Heritage, given the way that Guerlain has marketed the scent.) As for the men, several of them share my opinion that Heritage has whiffs of similarity to L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme. Some state that the eau de parfum version is “smoother” and “richer” than the EDT, but also softer in projection.
I agree with them. I think the bergamot is excessively sharp in the Eau de Toilette, and there is too much clean musk. The patchouli and spiciness also seem weaker in the EDT which is a brighter, crisper scent as a whole and has far less smoothness or depth. When I was sniffing the Guerlain line in Paris in 2013, it was Heritage EDP that I was drawn to (after my primary, immediate attraction to L’Instant de Guerlain Eau Extreme EDP), though I must admit, I had difficulty believing it actually was Heritage. Still, the modern eau de parfum continues to have enough comfortably appealing, classical elements for it to be worth a test sniff if you like any of the fragrances to which it is related.
Plus, Heritage is very affordable, particularly if one goes to a discount retailer. I found the eau de parfum in its 100 ml size discounted for as little as $64 or €70, which is quite a bit below retail. The Eau de Toilette is even cheaper but not as good, in my opinion. It is, however, the only one you can find in department stores or order samples of from decanting sites.
In short, if you love Habit Rouge, Jicky, L’Instant de Guerlain and Patricia de Nicolai’s Amber Oud, and would like elements of all of them combined into one scent, then give Heritage a try.