Vintage L’Heure Bleue was my first Guerlain love. In fact, until I tried a really old bottle of vintage Shalimar extrait, no other Guerlain came close. There was just something about L’Heure Bleue for me, something that touched me deeply in ways I can’t always explain. Part of it is that I first encountered the fragrance during a happy time in my life, but mental associations are not the only reason. To me, L’Heure Bleue simply feels special. The way the notes are juxtaposed sometimes feels intellectually introspective in a way that almost rises to the cerebral, and that fascinates me, but at the same time, the fragrance always triggered an even stronger emotional response as well, filling me with joy, comfort, and a sense of serenity in a way that other legendary Guerlains did not at the time.
To me, and at its core, vintage L’Heure Bleue is a fragrance that is all about polarities and paradoxes, intentionally juxtaposed contradictions, light and dark, masculinity and femininity, delicate demureness and bold opulence. In the 1980s non-extrait versions that I had originally known and fallen for, its beauty was quieter, more thoughtful, and more tender than its intensely glamorous, sophisticated, sensual, and divaesque sisters, Shalimar and Mitsouko, sometimes even a little ungainly in comparison, and she also wasn’t quite so monumentally complex or technically brilliant as they were. I’ve always felt that L’Heure Bleue was not only overshadowed in the popular discussion by her siblings, but sometimes seemed to be overlooked entirely when people talked about their favourite Guerlains. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been oddly protective of it. I had the sense — rightly or wrongly — that L’Heure Bleue was akin to the more demure, shy, bookish middle sister, “Jan Brady,” to use an American metaphor, saying “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” about her wildly popular, beautiful, intensely charismatic sisters.
What I never knew until recently what just how bold, confidently assertive, powerful, glamourous, and sensual L’Heure Bleue was in her own right, back in the old days. When I obtained a really old bottle of the extrait, I was flabbergasted to find that she wasn’t a demure wallflower, her beauty hiding under a delicate, fluffy, powdery, ultra-feminine facade. It was front and center. In fact, she was strikingly exuberant, intense, charismatic, and even a little masculine at times. There was no demureness, no need to dig below the surface to unfurl her layers of beauty.
Just as astonishing for me was the fact that, for much of the fragrance’s early life on my skin, there was very little of the “powdered marshmallow” character that has become so synonymous with the scent in the modern era. To the contrary, it wafted Shalimaresque traits at first sniff in a way that left me completely pole-axed. In short, it was an entirely new L’Heure Bleue than the 1980s EDT and PDTs that I had known, and it made me realise that I had actually never known L’Heure Bleue at all.
I suspect I am not alone in this, so, today, I would like to introduce some of you to a very different L’Heure Bleue, one that is a dark, musky, balsamic, heavily indolic, sensuous, smoky, and powerfully leathery floral oriental, rather a feminine floral powder puff and marshmallow. I’ll focus on two vintage, Marly boxed parfums, one which is circa 1967 given its base sticker and the darkness of its juice, and one that I suspect is from the 1970s because of its lighter coloured liquid. I’ll contrast the bouquet and character of those two versions with that of two eau de parfums that I have from the early 2000s. Their batch codes indicate 2003 and 2004, so they’re right before IFRA began to roll out its very first suggested restrictions in 2005/06 and one might argue that they’re “vintage” as a result. I’ll also briefly cover a 2011 modern version EDP that shows the impact of the IFRA/EU rules. Throughout the post, I’ll reference the 1980s EDT and PdT versions that I used to wear, to compare and contrast their scent, but they will only be general observations since I no longer have bottles from those eras to provide you a detailed olfactory breakdown of their scent. At the end of the post, I’ll briefly go over the ways you can to figure out the rough age of any bottles that you may find on eBay, but, once again, I have to emphasize that the technical issue of dating bottles is not my area of expertise, so I’ll point you to the experts for additional details and the specifics. In the final section, I’ll provide links to vintage L’Heure Bleue bottles on eBay and Etsy should you wish to buy a bottle for yourself.
L’HEURE BLEUE BASICS — ITS BACKGROUND, INSPIRATION, CHARACTER & NOTES:
L’Heure Bleue was created by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1912. My friend, the Guerlain expert and blogger, Monsieur Guerlain, has a wonderful article on the fragrance’s background and development that I recommend reading. It explains how L’Heure Bleue was influenced by Coty‘s earlier L’Origan and by Jacques Guerlain’s own 1902 Après L’Ondée, as well as the details of how the perfumer experimented with then-cutting-edge synthetics to create an olfactory equivalent of an impressionist painting. Those weren’t the only inspirations. Monsieur Guerlain writes:
The name L’Heure Bleue (meaning “the blue hour”) was a reference to the special hour at dusk on hushed, cloudless summer evenings when the light seems warmly blue and soft, the noise of the world is muted, and the smell of flowers reaches its peak. […][¶] According to the Guerlain annals, Jacques Guerlain wanted to capture the entrancing Parisian ambiance he found during his evening walks along the Seine. […] Composed two years before the outbreak of World War I, L’Heure Bleue also evokes the sweetness of a romantic prewar Paris, before darkness descended upon the city.
Monsieur Guerlain sums up L’Heure Bleue as a “magnificent marshmallow,” a description that always makes me laugh, but he’s absolutely right that the fragrance bears that aspect, and it’s particularly pronounced in newer and lighter versions. It stems from a fundamental central chord of heliotrope doused with green anise, vanilla, tonka, and iris/orris. Heliotrope can smell like powdery flowers, but its scent is even more like that of meringues, marshmallows, and spicy vanillic sweetness. At times, it can smell like almonds which, when combined with its vanillic sweetness, can create an aroma that frequently reminds me of almond-based marzipan. Once in a while, depending on the heliotrope’s quantity in proportion to the other notes in a fragrance, it can also smell exactly like Play-Doh, that powdery, almondy putty toy used by children.
I adore heliotrope, which is one reason why I’ve always loved L’Heure Bleue, but I know a number of readers, particularly men, who despise Play-Doh aromas in a fragrance and are also not keen on meringue-like sweetness or powderiness in general. If that is you, I’m telling you bluntly here and now that you are unlikely to enjoy L’Heure Bleue except (perhaps) in its very oldest, parfum form. Perhaps. You should certainly stay away from any non-extrait concentration from the 1980s onwards because there is little likelihood that the fragrance’s character, olfactory profile, and intense femininity would suit your personal tastes. The heliotrope is really front and center in all its various facets from the 1980s onwards in the EDT and EDP versions. On top of all that, there is a distinct suggestion of makeup powder in the non-extraits from those eras because of the way the heightened powdery sweetness interacts with the violet-scented orris. (In the old days, orris was used as a fixative in makeup, like lipsticks or face powder.)
Originally, though, there was far, far more to L’Heure Bleue than confectionary pastries, almondy sweet Play-Doh, or feminine makeup powder puffs. As we shall soon see, smoky orange blossoms, musky leather, and balsamic resins were also strong elements. There were even Bulgarian roses, a note that I had never encountered in any major or intense way in the 1980s era L’Heure Bleue that I had adored, but which I was astonished to see wafting in force in the old extrait versions. A huge, deep vein of blood-red roses pulsating through the opening? In L’Heure Bleue?? Who knew?!
I certainly hadn’t, but then extremely old L’Heure Bleue turned out to be like extremely old Shalimar in that way: its notes, character, and feel were different in the era and concentration that I originally encountered the fragrance than they had been decades earlier in its pure parfum form. The 1980s may not have been the 2010s in terms of IFRA-EU reformulation but, even back then, I think L’Heure Bleue had changed in its feel and vibe. Granted, one has to consider the impact of concentration differences, evaporation, and the concentration of notes when it comes to very old bottles, and even how the vagaries of memory may play a role in recalling how a fragrance used to be, but I don’t think those are the sole factors in explaining the differences. Just like with vintage Shalimar, I think the extremely old extraits were simply more opulent in their materials, the lavish quantities used for certain notes, and in the proportions which ensued.
Take, for example, the issue of powderiness which is one of the main traits that people now associate with the scent. “Melancholy,” “nostalgic,” or even “dated” are other traits, particularly amongst young(er) perfumistas who have tried more recent formulations of the fragrance. I don’t think that was true in quite the same way with vintage L’Heure Bleue parfum. In my opinion, the change in proportions or note ratios has impacted the degree of powderiness perhaps more than anything else, because it really wasn’t at the same levels before, not even remotely so with one very aged extrait that I tried.
In fact, I think people’s modern perception of L’Heure Bleue as being a “melancholy” scent is related to the powder issue just as much as it’s responsible for young people perceiving it as “old lady.” While I dislike that term in any context, I have to admit, I can see why people might interpret L’Heure Bleue that way, at least if they tried it in the last few decades. Monsieur Guerlain explained it more succinctly than I ever could: “Because L’Heure Bleue is so pronouncedly powdery, it is today primarily celebrated as a nostalgic perfume, probably explaining why most people think it exudes melancholy.” He then goes on to say: “What Jacques Guerlain meant to express, though, was a sense of serene happiness, represented by the magical stillness of the twilight hour.” He’s right, but, personally, I think it’s easier to convey serenity and timeless, romantic, non-fuddy-duddy beauty when one isn’t inundated in a gourmand powder puff, as one is today, and when there is a stronger emphasis on other elements, the way L’Heure Bleue had originally.
The point of this has been to provide a contextual framework for the olfactory analysis ahead, but we should get back to the basics: L’Heure Bleue’s note list. According to Monsieur Guerlain, the fragrance includes:
anise, bergamot, orange blossom, heliotrope, tuberose, carnation, violet, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, tonka bean, orris, benzoin, vanilla, musk.
Personally, I would add birch wood (leather) and styrax resin to that list as well, at least for the early decades. Every account of vintage L’Heure Bleue mentions the leather in the base, including Monsieur Guerlain’s. From the 1980s onwards, however, I think Guerlain substituted sandalwood for the birch leather, just as they did with Shalimar.
VINTAGE L’HEURE BLEUE EXTRAIT — 1960s:
Several months ago, I bought a corded, unopened bottle of vintage L’Heure Bleue parfum. It came nestled in the old brown and beige presentation boxes that I call the “Harvest” boxes because of their images of a man with sheaves of grain, animals, and nature. The “Harvest” boxes started around the 1930s, I think, or possibly even earlier, and they were used for different Guerlain extraits regardless of whether they came in the “Heart-shaped” design like my L’Heure Bleue or in one of its other shapes, like the “Parapluie” or “Umbrella.” This one had a gold Marly Horse logo imprinted inside as well. (For an explanation of all these terms, please see Part III of my Guide to vintage Shalimar.)
Recently, Raiders of the Lost Scent came out with a fantastic article on how to assess the date of vintage Guerlain fragrances based solely on the sticker (or postage-looking paper stamp) on the bottom of the bottle. The stamp/sticker has fallen off my bottle but was included inside the box and, judging by both the wording and colour of the text, it places the date somewhere between 1967 and 1976. I think my bottle is at the oldest end of that spectrum because of the crazy colour of its juice: it’s dark orange-brown in hue, unless one puts it in the light whereupon it’s actually and literally orange-red, which is the colour I’ve seen when people have shared photos of their pre-1960s bottles. Plus, the liquid in mine is thick in texture, and the fragrance’s bouquet is unbelievably concentrated, even for a very old extrait. It’s so concentrated, dark, and dense, that, frankly — if it weren’t for the Raiders of The Lost Scents sticker article and if I’d been judging by its smell alone — I would have guessed this was a 1950s bottle. Plus, an age of 60-something years would also explain the amount of evaporation in an otherwise unopened bottle. Nevertheless, dates don’t matter as much as smell, so let’s just call this version a 1967 one and go on from there.
This bottle of vintage L’Heure Bleue opens with bergamot drizzled over a floral bouquet of roses, jasmine, orange blossoms, and violets. The latter are beautiful, visually purple in hue but smelling green, dewy, sweet, liquidy, and also candied. On the sidelines, there is a soft fringe of green from tuberose that is both floral and mossy in nature. The floral bouquet may be at the forefront of the bouquet, but it is hardly the only thing. Rich vanilla is layered between each flower, along with L’Heure Bleue’s signature of heliotrope, anise, and tonka. Vanilla meringue and marshmallow powder are lightly dusted on top, though never enough to make the fragrance read as “powdery” in any way.
Each note is deep, layered, and robust in aroma. The anise smells partially like the bright green, fresh fronds of its plant (fennel), but also has an undertone of spicy black pepper. The vanilla is enormously creamy, like a French Bean vanilla custard ice cream. The jasmine and orange blossom are both syrupy and indolic, while the orris smells exactly like violets. The roses are incredibly beefy and blood-red, oozing out a honeyed, fruity sweetness in such a naturalistic way that they resemble roses growing in a garden. The bergamot initially smells bright, bold, but also raw, like the sort in 1970s Shalimar parfum, although it eventually takes on its Earl Grey and smoky tea aromas that were typical of older Shalimar bottles. In L’Heure Bleue’s base, darkness awakens after 10 minutes: thin streaks of treacly, smoky, balsamic resins lie next to birch tar leather that smells of singed campfire woods and smoky, cured, salty meats.
It was a slightly different story when I applied a small quantity of scent instead of my standard baseline amount (either 2 sprays or their dabbed, smeared equivalent). With only a few light dabs, the proportion were entirely different and L’Heure Bleue opened smelling much like a 1950s bottle of Shalimar parfum: wave after wave of roses and syrupy jasmine, both coated with rich bergamot-vanilla cream and lying atop a massive slab of resinous, woody, and smoky leather. There was only the lightest suggestion of the signature anise-heliotrope-orris-violets, a mere wisp in the background. It was so light and so minor in fact that when I smelt my very first bottle of truly aged LHB extrait, I had to double-check the name on the bottle. I don’t know what confused me more, the roses, the pulsating leather, the strength of the bergamot, or the absence of powdery heliotrope meringue. The bouquet did subsequently take on more traditional L’Heure Bleue characteristics, particularly the violets and heliotrope, but that opening really flummoxed me and was like nothing that I’d ever encountered in the 1980s.
This 1967 extrait changes in small, quiet ways as the hours progress, so small that one doesn’t always realise until, suddenly, one ends up wearing a very different fragrance than it was at its start. Most of the changes are simply to the order, prominence, and nuances of the notes that make up the fragrance’s 3 central accords: the indolic white florals, the leather, and the gourmandise. In fact, I think L’Heure Bleue is the most linear and the simplest of the “Big Three,” as I call Guerlain’s most famous early fragrances. (Sorry, Apres L’Ondee, I love you too.) What separates one stage from the next is often just the degree to which a particular note or accord is being emphasized. The first is the complex floral oriental bouquet that I’ve just described. The second is centered primarily on intensely indolic, intensely musky, smoky floral leather. The third is an ambered gourmand.
But, as I said, L’Heure Bleue makes its way slowly to each one. For example, roughly 30 minutes in, the flowers grow more indolic and sweeter, led now by the orange blossoms, then followed several steps behind by the jasmine, the violets, and the heliotrope, in that order. The rose brings up the rear, while the tuberose disappears entirely. There is only the tiniest iota of powder in sight, perhaps because it’s been swallowed up by the indoles and their smoky muskiness. While all of this is happening, the anise turns more peppery; the bergamot melts into the vanilla in such a way that they’re impossible to separate; and the smoky, tarry birch leather starts to slowly rise up from the base. It reaches the top at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. By the end of the second hour, L’Heure Bleue’s focus is begins to shift to the leather and indolic orange blossom, a transition to what will be the second main stage.
That stage starts at the end of the third hour and the start of the fourth. I’d estimate roughly 80% of L’Heure Bleue’s bouquet on my skin consists of floral leather: intensely indolic, intensely musky, strongly smoky and sticky orange blossom leather. Jasmine and bergamot-vanilla lightly lick its edges, while a thick, treacly river of balsamic resins tie everything together. There is hardly any heliotrope marshmallow, only a passing, ghostly whisper of violets, no anise, and no powder at all.
The leather is a real surprise in this version of L’Heure Bleue. Roughly 6.5 hours in, it turns animalic and almost raw in feel. I don’t know if it’s due to the indirect impact of the indoles, perhaps even the raw bergamot oil on the leather, or something, but it’s almost like a thick slab of barely cured raw hides on my skin, only this one has skanky, smoky, and deeply indolic florals (mostly orange blossom but some jasmine as well) slathered on top. In addition, there is a good dose of smoky resins (styrax?) that are practically smoldering in feel, and a drop of charred birch woods. There is some vanilla enfolded within, but it’s a light touch that is squashed down by the other notes. It’s the same story with the heliotrope which really feels like nothing more than another form of sweetness, one that is buried within the other florals’ syrupiness.
I don’t think L’Heure Bleue was intended to be this way, and I think evaporation, concentration, and the age of the extrait are largely responsible. They have amplified the darkness, smokiness, and muskiness which is innate to three separate elements: the leather, the indoles, and the resins. When those three things come together, then percolate for decades, the result not only intensifies their traits to a huge degree, but also gives them far greater prominence in the overall composition than Jacques Guerlain ever intended. After all, one is supposed to wear a fragrance at the time one buys it, not 60 years later. Still, the degree of the leather was such that I spoke to Monsieur Guerlain about it. He agrees that old extraits are extremely smoky, and he thought that eugenol may be an additional factor.
L’Heure Bleue’s drydown begins roughly 10 hours into the fragrance’s development, and the focus changes to a gourmand bouquet. The vanilla emerges as a dominant note, fusing with caramel-scented benzoin and the heliotrope. The end result is something that smells exactly like a melting marshmallow coated in caramel. I keep thinking of S’mores, an American treat, where melted marshmallows are stuck between cookies, biscuits, or, sometimes, between slabs of chocolates. L’Heure Bleue has basically turned into the olfactory equivalent of S’mores on my skin, where caramel-coated, melted marshmallows and a fading touch of indolic, syrupy florals are sandwiched between musky leather and balsamic resins. To the extent that marshmallows have an innate powdery undertone, there is some of that going on here but never so much that I feel as though I’ve been enveloped within a feminine powder puff.
I do, however, feel as though I’ve been dipped in caramel vanilla which is precisely what L’Heure Bleue turns into in the second half of its drydown: ambery, slightly resinous caramel shot through with creamy marshmallow vanilla. There are faint curlicues of smoke at the edges, but they’re subtle and simply add to the sense of caramelized vanilla. In its final moments, all that’s left is syrupy sweetness.
This 1967 extrait version of L’Heure Bleue had huge longevity, initially intense sillage that took a while to turn soft, and low projection. With several smears equal to a bit less than 2 sprays from a bottle (more like 1.5), the fragrance opened with about 3 inches of projection and 4 inches of sillage but the latter grew to 7-8 inches after 40-60 minutes. The projection dropped incrementally but faster than the scent trail. At the start of the 3rd hour, the projection was about 1.5 inches above the skin, while the sillage was back to about 4 inches. About 6.5 hours in, the projection was about 0.5, while the sillage was soft, but it took 8.25 hours in total for L’Heure Bleue to turn into a skin scent. It coated the skin as the merest wisp after the 12th hour, but lasted just short of 16.5 hours in total. When I applied the equivalent of 1 small spray, L’Heure Bleue lasted just short of 12 hours, but was very soft after the 5th hour on my skin.
VINTAGE L’HEURE BLEUE EXTRAIT — 1970s:
I have a bottle of L’Heure Bleue that’s extremely hard to date. It’s a “Parapluie” or “Umbrella” bottle, a design which was in use from 1952 to the end of the 1970s. It comes in a Marly horse version of the brown “Harvest” box, and the Marly horse logo was also used until the late 1970s. (See, Part III of the Shalimar Guide for more details on Guerlain bottles and box packaging.) Unlike Shalimar’s Urn/Bat bottle, the design never changed, so we can’t rely on that to tell us anything. The base of the small 7.5 bottle is too tiny to Guerlain to have used any sticker or stamp, so that option is out, too. Labels for the Parapluie bottles don’t tell us anything really about the age of the bottle but, even if they did, it had fallen off my bottle prior to my buying it. At a guess, though, I think that the bottle is probably from the middle to late 1970s. The factors that I’m relying upon are: its scent as compared to the extrait version I’ve just described; the Marly logo; and the colour of its juice as compared to the 1960s extrait.
[UPDATE 11/16: One of my readers kindly shared some of his Guerlain expertise on the subject of the bottle. “Sam in London” wrote that it was made of pressed glass, and “could have been made by one of three factories: Pochet et du Courval, Verreries Brosse or Saint-Gobain – Desjonquères.” (Bolding emphasis added by me.) As for the possible significance of the “B” imprint on the back of the box in the photo above, he was uncertain, and I certainly don’t know.]
The 1970s extrait opens on my skin with an intensely indolic white floral bouquet dominated to a significant degree by orange blossoms. Syrupy jasmine trails behind like a handmaiden, while bright, raw, and slightly bitter bergamot oil is drizzled on top. Once again, a thin fringe of greenness surrounds the flowers, thanks to tuberose that smells floral but also mossy, indolic, and camphorous. Candied purple violets, golden roses, and a very floral-smelling heliotrope quietly stand on the sidelines. Dark vanilla, cinnamon-scented benzoin, and a touch of smoky styrax leather run through the base.
It’s a beautiful, luxurious and intensely feminine bouquet. L’Heure Bleue may have been inspired by dusky, purple twilight on the Seine and impressionist paintings, but this version is a rich oil painting done in clear brush strokes in a palette centered on inviting, decadent golds, yellows, and cream that are lightly edged in dark shadows, soft greens, ambers, orange, and only a touch of violet. The main florals may be white, but they read as completely golden; the perfumer may have been inspired by retrospective, peaceful walks, but the scent itself feels ebullient, joyful, bright, and glamorous. There is not one sign of a girlie powder puff, like the modern versions, but also none of the more demure beauty and delicacy of the L’Heure Bleue that I knew in the 1980s. This L’Heure Bleue is a vibrantly confident adult woman who can joyously revel in her femininity without losing her glamourous side.
The 1970s version largely follows the same template as the 1967 parfum, but both the details and the feel of the fragrance are different in the first 60-90 minutes. It’s lighter, thinner in body, and softer than the 1967 extrait, less dense, dark, or heavy, although it’s still quite powerful when smelt up close. The bouquet is also brighter, less sultry and smoldering than the 1967 extrait. The initial note development differs, too. Roughly 15 minutes in, the heliotrope surges to the forefront, pushing aside the tuberose to stand next to the jasmine handmaiden worshiping the orange blossom queen. The heliotrope no longer smells purely floral but is taking on a distinctly vanillic sweetness that is just like marshmallows, only spicier. The tuberose retreats to the background, lingers for a short while, then disappears entirely not long after. The violets grow stronger than ever, turning purely candied in nature. More significantly, the vanilla and benzoin begin to seep up from the base, creating a distinct caramel aroma. The caramel note occurred so much later in the 1967 version but, here, it’s prominent right in the opening. In fact, the fragrance’s sweetness levels are rising in general. The jasmine once again turns to honey, while the orange blossom occasionally reminds me of a very floral version of orange marmalade. It’s far too sweet and gourmand for my personal tastes when smelt up close, but it’s absolutely delectable from afar. It feels even more golden than before, although, to me, the changes also mean that the vibe is shifting from its earlier complex, intense, haute couture glamorousness into something not casual, per se, but perhaps more insouciant or easygoing.
Since there is not one jot of powder in sight in the opening hour, there is nothing dated or old-fashioned in feel. In that regard, L’Heure Bleue skews away from a fragrance with which it shares some olfactory overlap, Grossmith‘s 1906 Shem-el-Nessim which was similarly inspired by Coty‘s L’Origan. Thanks to its intensely gourmand character, the 1970s L’Heure Bleue feels much more modern than the 1967 version, in my opinion. The degree of sweetness make it feel like an extrait which Roja Dove, Xerjoff, or AJ Arabia might have released in recent times: it made me think of Roja Dove‘s orange blossom gourmand, Ti Amo; the immensely honeyed jasmine of Xerjoff‘s Al Khatt (but without oud or its barnyard animalics); and the ambered, floral vanilla-caramel of AJ Arabia‘s Black V. The difference is, 1970s L’Heure Bleue also has candied violets, heliotrope marshmallow, golden roses, and an increasingly powerful streak of leather.
The 1970s version of L’Heure Bleue follows the progression of the 1967 one to a T. Only the timing and nuances of things are different. Roughly 45 minutes in, the leather joins the main notes on center stage, launching the second phase as early as the start of the 2nd hour. Once again, L’Heure Bleue becomes a smoky, intensely indolic, musky, orange blossom leather infused with fluctuating amounts of heliotrope marshmallows, jasmine syrup, vanilla custard, and caramel benzoin. A light touch of green anise and a few sugared violets are sprinkled on top; a sliver of singed birch wood runs through the base; and everything is wrapped up with ribbons of smoke. Basically, it’s a slightly more complex and more intensely floral, leathery, and indolic version of the S’mores drydown that I described in the 1967 fragrance.
At the end of the 2nd hour, smoldering resins join the party, and a veil of sweetened, vanillic meringue powder descends upon the leathery florals. The result is darkness edged with light, masculine contrasted with femininity, hot resinous smoke and leather side-by-side next to dessert pastries and violet-scented makeup powder. It may sound bizarre on paper, but it works beautifully and smells wonderful, even if it’s far, far too sweet for me personally when I smell my arm up close.
L’Heure Bleue’s third stage begins roughly 4.25 hours into its development. The leather disappears, leaving only a vapor of smoke in its stead. Now, the bouquet consists primarily of ambered, caramel marshmallow florals, as much as 80% of it at a rough estimate. The remaining 20% consists of tiny wisps of floral heliotrope, Earl Grey bergamot-vanilla custard, and anise, but they’re largely subsumed within the powerful central chord. When the full drydown begins in the middle of the 6th hour, there is only benzoin, caramel, and vanilla left, tied together with thin tendrils of smoke and an abstract, musky, strongly syrupy floralcy. Those strands slowly fade away, leaving just a haze of caramel on my arm in the very final hours.
The 1970s version of L’Heure Bleue extrait had lower sillage, projection, and longevity numbers than its 1967 sister. Using several smears approximately equal to the amount I used for the other fragrance, it opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and about 6-7 inches of a scent trail. Both dropped after 90 minutes. After 3 hours, the fragrance was close to the skin. It became a skin scent a bit after the 3.5 hour mark. In total, it lasted just under 12 hours, although one or two tiny patches on my arm wafted sweetness for a short while longer.
As a final note, I wouldn’t be surprised if this 1970s version were slightly truer to what Jacques Guerlain had intended. First, the leather phase was shorter, and the note was not quite so dominant in the same way as the 1967 version. Second, the fragrance had a heightened degree of brightness and sparkle in its opening that I suspect was more representative of the original.
VINTAGE L’HEURE BLEUE EDP — EARLY 2000s (+2011 EDP & 1980s EDT & PDT):
I have two bottles of L’Heure Bleue eau de parfum that are I’m going to call “vintage” because they were released in the early 2000s, before IFRA began its first wave of “suggested” restrictions in 2005/2006, supposedly in order to save mankind and humanity from allergic reactions. (The fact that the big aromachemical companies like Givaudan were spear-heading the push to deem synthetics as safer than natural materials, were lobbying hard and paying IFRA a lot of money, had nothing to do with it. Oh no, absolutely nothing at all…. It was all a purely altruistic and humanitarian effort to save that monumentally huge number of allergic people who had a gun to their head forcing them to wear fragrances that were hazardous with natural essential oils. I hope you detect the sarcasm and loathing in my voice.) Anyway, these bottles have batch sticker codes on their base dating them to 2003 and 2004. Despite the slight differences in the colour of their juice (the 2003 being browner and darker), they smell virtually alike, so I’ll talk about the 2003 one.
It’s difficult for me to review the eau de parfum because I really enjoy its scent from afar but, when I objectively and critically view its parts, both individually and collectively, I really can’t bear to smell the fragrance. It’s not a situation I encounter often, where the reviewer in me shudders a little and dreads to smell my arm in any depth up close, while the rest of me sniffs the scent trail wafting in the air happily. So long as I’m very far away from the fragrance, it reminds me of the 1980s EDT and PDT that I used to wear, although it’s not as beautiful, not as nuanced, not as smooth, and not nearly as well-balanced. (“PDT” stands for “Parfum de Toilette” which what Guerlain called its eau de parfum concentration, starting around 1984/86 and lasting until 1990 when it officially starting using the “eau de parfum” designation.)
Like the 1980s versions of L’Heure Bleue EDT and PDT, the 2003 EDP is heliotrope-centric, and right from the start. It opens with a mixed bouquet of flowers centered on heliotrope meringues, followed closely by violets that are candied but also a little dewy, green, and fresh as well. Orange blossoms and jasmine are several paces behind, both of them smelling syrupy, fruity, jammy, and faintly smoky in an indolic sort of way. There is a drop of bergamot that pops up before rapidly retreating to the sidelines. Once again, there is greenness that trims the flowers, except this time the tuberose smells purely synthetic, is merely an abstract suggestion, and dies even more quickly than in any other prior version.
Hanging over the flowers is a veil of anise and marshmallow powder, but it is the base which draws my attention with its streaks of synthetic woodiness that smell like completely fake “sandalwood” mixed with a slug of white musk and huge amounts of terribly shrill, poor quality vanillin that smells mostly of scratchy, grainy white sugar. L’Heure Bleue has never been an all-natural fragrance and I’ve never cared because the synthetics were judiciously handled, masterfully woven into the fabric of the scent to accentuate the notes in a positive way that never revealed the magician’s tricks. The synthetics in this 2003 EDP, however, are painfully and excessively obvious, and they show their cheap seams in a way that becomes more and more distracting for me as the fragrance develops.
Having said that, everything else is really pretty, at least to a heliotrope and violet lover like myself. If I don’t smell my arm up close and if I block out the awful base (that godawful, cheap “sandalwood,” the way the vanillin is increasingly shrieking like a deranged sugared banshee), then this 2003 L’Heure Bleue is a bright, rather delectable swirl of golden flowers laced in violet, cream, and just a touch of green. It’s basically a powdery feminine fluff ball where vanilla meringue vies with candied violets and other confectionary sweets under a stream of orange blossom and jasmine nectar.
To find any of this pleasant, though, one MUST love heliotrope in all its facets because the flower is highlighted in a way that exceeds even the 1980s versions. Each and every one of its olfactory characteristics are now on display, front and center, and they go beyond mere marshmallows, meringues, or floral-vanillic powder. For the first time, the heliotrope smells not only of bitter almonds and sweet almond marzipan, but, more importantly for some readers, it also wafts an unmistakable and powerful aroma of Play-Doh as well. I don’t mind it when it’s combined with everything else, but I know some readers dislike it immensely, so be warned.
In terms of the overall bouquet, the 2003 EDP changes in incremental, tiny steps but, in terms of nuances and the loudness of certain notes, the fragrance changes quite rapidly. Less than 15 minutes in, both the woodiness in the base and the powder up top grow noticeably stronger. More difficult for me, however, is the way the orange blossom, the jasmine, the violets, and the vanilla balloon in sweetness. The vanilla is particularly bad. It’s not simply tooth-achingly sweet like saccharine; it almost rises to the level of being acrid. In addition, it’s raspy and grainy in texture, and I can feel it coating the back of my throat every time I sniff my arm up close.
The vanilla may be the worst offender, but it’s not the only one. Around this time, the violets turn to pure candy, the jasmine’s honey turns suffocating, while the orange blossom turns into pure goopy, fruity jam. Matters aren’t helped by the benzoin’s arrival 30 minutes in, wafting dense, sticky caramel, nor by an abstract “rose” that smells more like red berried fruitchouli. It would be one thing to handle each type of sweetness by itself but, collectively, they are suffocatingly cloying for someone with my low tolerance levels for gourmands. As compared to the other versions, including the 1980s ones, the 2003 EDP is definitely death by sugar, like being drowned in a vat of pastry desserts.
Yet, despite all that, the fragrance has something surprisingly and wonderfully pretty about it when smelt from afar, perhaps because I’m such a sucker for heliotrope and this sort of orris/violets. Having said that, even the vapours wafting on the scent trail in the air have turned crystallized and ultra-sweet. It was never this way with the 1980s versions that I loved — never — or else I would not have worn them. Not once did they read as unbalanced, almost arising to the level of acridness.
If the vintage extraits of L’Heure Bleue turned indolic, leathery, smoky, and musky, the 2000-era EDP turns powdery, woody, and even more gourmand. In my opinion, there is zero birch in the EDP, so there is no sense of leather, but the beige woods (faux “sandalwood”) which replace it become a significant player in the exact same way. Just as the leather seeped up from the base to fuse with the main notes at the end of the first hour and start of the second, so does the “sandalwood.” The heliotrope smells more like almond Play-Doh than ever, while the anise starts to waft strong amounts of black pepper. The jasmine and orange blossom turn into a blur of simple white floral syrup. As for the bergamot, it turns ghostly, disappearing for large stretches of time before reappearing unexpectedly as the vanilla’s companion, then disappearing once more. For the most part, the second stage is basically a powdery, floral woody gourmand scent.
There isn’t much point in detailing the rest of the 2003 EDP’s development because it follows the basic LHB template from this point forth. The drydown at the start of the 4th hour is nothing more than a powdery floral marshmallow coated in caramel-vanilla that eventually dissolves into powdery, caramel-ish, syrupy sweetness.
This version of L’Heure Bleue had good longevity, and initially strong projection and sillage which gradually turned soft. With 2 sprays, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection, while the scent trail was about 7-8 inches, perhaps due to the way my skin amplifies any fragrance with a high degree of synthetics in it. At the end of the 2nd hour, the projection was at 2.5, while the sillage dropped to 4-5 inches. The fragrance became a skin scent after 4.5 hours, but was easy to detect without huge effort up close until the 7th hour. In total, the 2003 EDP lasted a little over 11 hours.
The 2004 EDP that I have is practically identical in every regard. However, every time I wear it, I have the sense that it is weaker in body, feel, and sillage, and also slightly sweeter. (Yes, even sweeter!) Perhaps it’s merely my imagination, although the juice is noticeably lighter. Make of that what you will.
I want to briefly talk about a 2011 decant of L’Heure Bleue EDP that I own, even though it’s not vintage, because I think a differential comparison might be helpful to readers who have only experienced modern versions of LHB. This one has an intense black pepper note right from the start. There isn’t any discernible greenness or tuberose, but the bergamot is strong, dominant, and persistent. The problem is that it smells shrill, purely lemony, and painfully synthetic. There is practically no orris/violets to speak off, and significantly less orange blossom. There is, however, a ton more jasmine and, to my nose, it now smells excessively synthetic.
Oddly, the amount of heliotrope has been tamped down quite significantly in the opening phase, and it also doesn’t lead the fragrance right from the first sniff. In fact, there is so little heliotrope as compared to the 1980s and 2000s versions that, for much of its first hour, the majority of the bouquet smells of simple white florals (blurred together but mostly jasmine-ish) that have been drenched with shrill lemon (bergamot), raspy white sugar (vanilla), and clean musk. The other elements are either so watered down, minor, or muffled (particularly by the bergamot) as to be practically irrelevant. After this opening, the rest of the fragrance’s development approximates that of the 2003 version in its broadest trends.
But, for me, the strangest thing is how positively nondescript, anemic, translucent, and sheer everything is, even the supposed main notes. The fragrance is so wan, anemic, watered down, and lackluster that, had I smelt it blindly back in the 1980s, I would not have recognised this as “L’Heure Bleue,” especially during the first hour. I would have thought the fragrance was a cheap knock-off. It’s quite depressing, actually.
While this 2011 version isn’t represent “vintage” in any way, it’s significant because 2010 marked the era when IFRA/EU restrictions took over in a really major way. IFRA standards are non-binding and non-legal, but the parallel EU ones have the full force of law. What IFRA started in 2005/06 and 2008 really swung into high gear within the EU from 2010 onwards. So this 2011 decant represents a truly reformulated, modern version. A reader told me that Luca Turin feels Thierry Wasser has improved matters in the most recent version was just relaunched, but the 2011 version can still teach one a thing or two about how the fragrance has changed over time and, more to the point for our purposes here, that the older versions are better.
ALL THE L’HEURE BLEUES — 1960s TO EARLY 2000s:
Putting the modern 2011 aberration (and travesty) aside, I think L’Heure Bleue has actually held up surprisingly well over the last few decades as compared to some of her sisters. I think the reason is because it’s not so dependent on materials that are heavily restricted by IFRA/EU agencies. Heliotrope is not oakmoss, so L’Heure Bleue isn’t as vulnerable as, say, Mitsouko. In my opinion, the biggest reason for changes in character is cost-of-production considerations for the raw materials. But, when taken as a whole, L’Heure Bleue is still beautiful to pretty across its various decades, even if I’m not keen on smelling the 2000-era EDP up close.
What’s been interesting to me as I’ve explored the earlier decades and the extraits is how little they accord with my memory of the 1980s EDT and PDT. The latter both were closer to the 2003 EDP than, for example, the 1967 extrait. They were powdery, fluffy, sweet florals bouquets with a gourmand streak. That streak was basically amped up to crazy degrees in the 2000 era, but the bones of the fragrance otherwise remained the same as they had been in the 1980s. The bouquet of the 1980s EDT and PDT fell midway between the 1970s and the 2003 versions that I’ve described. The difference is that the EDT was obviously lighter, thinner, brighter, and less powerful than the higher concentrations. It had some shadows of darkness, smokiness, leather, and indolic muskiness, but they were mere shadows as compared to the 1967 version. I recall the sandalwood in the PDT, but it was never so much as to turn the fragrance’s focus into a floral-woody, rather than a floral scent. Both the 1980s EDT and PDT were powdery but, like everything else, it was balanced and well integrated into the other notes. I vaguely recall some almond with the PDT, but not with the EDT. Neither one, however, skewed into Play-Doh territory, though. In both concentrations, the heliotrope and violets were prominent, but one certainly smelt the orange blossom and jasmine. I honestly don’t recall tuberose being present; the roses were minor to the point of sometimes being ghostly whispers, always pale in nature, and short-lived. The bergamot never smelt like Earl Grey, but it was also never shrill, sharp, or like lemon. The vanilla wasn’t as rich as custard, but it also wasn’t sugary in nature and certainly nothing like cloying saccharine. It was silky and smooth.
It’s the 1960s and 1970s bottles in pure parfum form that are the real revelation with their central backbone of intensely indolic, smoky orange blossom accompanied by so much dark, smoldering, musky, almost masculine-skewing leather. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much I really and truly enjoy the floral leather phase. It disorientates me in its alienness to what I knew so well, and it’s a little too assertively leathered and indolic for my personal tastes. But, at the same time, I find so much of this old version of L’Heure Bleue to be sultry, glamorous, and confidently bold that it’s hard not to be impressed or to fall under its charms. Even as I struggle with its leather or with the intensely syrupy nature of the orange blossoms and jasmine, the fragrance as a whole sort of sweeps me off my feet. I may be kicking and screaming a little as it drags me in its sway, but I’m also enjoying the ride.
Be that as it may, I don’t love the vintage L’Heure Bleue extraits the way that I do the Shalimar ones. I’m not obsessed, I’m not driven to want to wear it on each and every free night I have from testing, and I don’t sniff my arm with an almost orgasmic sigh of passion. Something is not hitting me personally in quite the same way as the really ancient bottles of vintage Shalimar, so I plan to seek out the oldest bottle of L’Heure Bleue EDT that is available as well as a 1980s parfum to see if either of those are the perfect Goldilocks version in terms of note ratios and, therefore, if they are more of a comfortable fit for my personal tastes.
For those of you who are considering trying vintage L’Heure Bleue for the first time, your personal tastes will dictate which concentration and era best suits your comfort zone. It will probably depend entirely on the notes that you want emphasized. As a general rule, when it comes to vintage fragrances that I buy for myself, I try to avoid anything past the 1980s but, in your case, you may well prefer 1990s or 2000 era L’Heure Bleue to one of the really old ones. If you’re a woman who loves intense gourmands, flirty florals, and girlie makeup bouquets, then you may actually want to focus on both a later edition and a weaker concentration. If you’re a man who wants musky, smoky, resinous leather and who doesn’t mind indoles or strong florals, then go as old as you can find, and stick to the extrait. Even if you dislike powder or Play-Doh aromas, the extrait may still work for you if you get one from the 1960s or earlier. But, even so, you must love indolic, strong florals that make the scent skew to the feminine side. There is no getting around that fundamental aspect of L’Heure Bleue.
VINTAGE BOTTLE DESIGNS, PACKAGING & DATING THE AGE OF A BOTTLE:
L’Heure Bleue came in most of the same bottle formats as vintage Shalimar except the main design for the extrait was the “heart-shaped” bottle and it never came in the bat/urn “Chauve Souris” design. But, just like Shalimar, there were also the Parapluie and Rosebud/Amphora designs for the parfum, the Goutte/Teardrop bottle for the Eau de Toilette, the Montre/Disk for the Eau de Cologne, and a few others. The accompanying packaging or boxes were similar to those offered for comparable Shalimar versions, except I’ve never seen a velvet flocked box for L’Heure Bleue parfum, only the Harvest boxes, with and without the Marly logo. You can read Part III of my Shalimar Guide for more details on each of those things, as well as the most basic tips for dating Guerlain fragrances in general and links to resources that elaborate even further.
The thing that makes L’Heure Bleue difficult for me to date is that weren’t deviations in the look of the bottles, labels, stems, or markings the way there were for Shalimar’s Bat bottle. It would be logical to assume that Baccarat and the other glass manufacturers used the same method for marking the bottom of the heart-shaped bottles (like acid-etching versus glass cutting), but I don’t know that for a fact. I’ve never actually seen a L’Heure Bleue bottle with acid-etching on its base, although I have for a Mitsouko bottle in the same heart design. My LHB doesn’t have it. Instead, it has a little symbol to the far right that looks like a squiggly sort of “B” that I assume stands for “Baccarat,” but I have no idea if that signifies a particular decade or not. (The bottle also came with a white paper collar imprinted with the word “Guerlain” on it, but I don’t know the dating significance of that either.) [UPDATE 11/16: “Sam in London” kindly explained that the bottle is actually not Baccarat. First, it’s made of pressed glass. Second, the squiggly symbol shown directly in the photo below is the “HP” mark of Pochet et du Courval. My sincere thanks to Sam for the information. The more facts and accuracy, the better.]
On top of all that, the look of the Harvest boxes doesn’t really change at all, so if one doesn’t have any outside packaging (like coffee bean paper, for example), then it’s even harder. As I explained in my Shalimar Guide, it wasn’t until 1976 that one could date things with real certainty because that’s when Guerlain started using batch codes. Prior to that, one had to rely on the look of the outer boxes, like whether they had a coffee bean pattern, a Zig-Zag zebra pattern, or something else. That’s useful information if you happen across an EDT, EDC, or PDT on eBay that includes its outer wrapping, but I don’t recall ever seeing the extraits on eBay with anything but the inner presentation, brown-and-beige “Harvest” box, and the look of those never changed over the decades in any noticeable way.
The one and only thing that may help is the base stickers on the bottle and a fantastic new guide from Raiders of The Lost Scents on them. All vintage Guerlains had base stickers or, as I like to call them, postage-looking “stamps,” which preceded the batch code stickers. Depending on the colour, the text, its wording, and any numbers that may appear, the article tells you the general decade of the bottle. For example, it turns out that one of my Shalimar bottles is actually from the 1940s (or earlier) because it has a red and blue sticker, and the text mentions “Belgique.” The stamp on another one of my bottles is slightly similar but it doesn’t have the word “Belgique,” and its roman numerals are located on the bottom left instead of the bottom right. All of that means the bottle is from the early 1950s. Since the same rules apply to L’Heure Bleue, the photos below should give you an idea of the stickers that you’ll find on that fragrance as well. For example, a sticker/stamp from the 1940s or earlier with the elements just described:
A sticker from the early 1950s, where the writing was still in red and blue, but the text did not include the word “Belgique” and the roman numerals were located on the left:
In terms of my L’Heure Bleue extrait, the sticker had fallen off but was tucked inside in the box and there is a photo of it below for you to compare. According to the Raiders article, it dates somewhere from 1967 to 1976 because: its colour is monochrome (not dual coloured); the last words in its text are “legislation en vigueur” instead of “magasins de PARIS”); and there is an alphabetic letter (A or B) in the lower left hand corner, not a Roman numeral:
I’ll let you study the Raiders’ post on your own if you have a bottle that you want to date, because it covers a lot more decades but, before I move on to other topics, I wanted to give André Moreau and Elena a huge round of applause and a “Bravo” for putting together an exceptionally useful, informative, and thorough guide. It must have taken a phenomenal amount of research and time, so I tip my hat to them both.
As for bottles and packaging from 1967 (really 1976) onwards, particularly those that have batch codes, there is no better resource than Raiders of the Lost Scent’s general Guerlain guide on those matters.
AVAILABILITY & PRICING — eBAY & ETSY:
Buying vintage L’Heure Bleue on eBay is a bit of an exercise in frustration and patience because bottles are not available with anything close to the same numbers as vintage Shalimar. In my experience, eBay tends to have “feast or famine” cycles of availability for a particular fragrance but, even taking that into consideration, L’Heure Bleue is still not as widely sold. The vintage parfum usually has the fewest entries and, if you’re looking for something 1 oz in size or larger, then you better be prepared to wait.
When I was looking on eBay US over the summer, there were never more than 5 extrait bottles at a time, sometimes even less. (I’m talking about listings for actual bottles, not tiny vials decanted from someone’s bottle.) Today, a search for “Vintage L’Heure Bleue Parfum” lists 13 results, shows only 6 entries (??), but 3 of them are for samples. Two of the other entries are 15 ml or 1/2 oz bottles, and they’re priced at $225 and $315. A third looks to be the same size but is half full (though sealed), and costs $200. If one broadens the search to “vintage L’Heure Bleue” of all types, an additional 24 entries pop up, 2 of which are extrait bottles (so we’re back to 5 total). However, most are eau de toilettes from the 1980s onwards, sample vials, or nearly empty bottles.
One thing stands out to me in that measly selection: a 1 oz, Marly box, Baccarat bottle that looks practically full (and that is mislabeled as being 1/2 oz) with a starting bid of $149. Unfortunately, the seller only ships within the US but, if you’re a hardcore L’Heure Bleue lover who lives overseas, then you may want to see if a friend located in America will let you use his/her address for receipt and then ship it to you. Assuming that you win the auction, of course.
There aren’t a lot of other great choices on eBay at the moment, and I don’t think there have been for a while. Most searches pull up a plethora of empty bottles. To tell you how bad the availability and prices are for vintage L’Heure Bleue, I’ve seen empty LHB heart-shaped bottles going for $80, and one person is offering a mere “Harvest” box, completely empty, for $150. That’s crazy!
These are significantly higher prices that what I encountered this past summer. As a point of comparison, I bought my 7.5 ml Parapluie/Umbrella bottle for about $68, while my 1 oz extrait was a roughly $180. Both were auctions, not “Buy it Now.” (As a side note, I bought my 2003 and 2004 EDPs, each one 2.5 oz or 75 ml, for roughly $85 and $60, respectively. Both were listed in the general “L’Heure Bleue” category, not as vintages, even though one of them came with the old black-and-gold box.)
Unfortunately, availability is even more limited in Europe. On eBay UK, a search for “Vintage L’Heure Bleue Perfume” brought up 52 results, almost all of which were empty bottles (with a few vintage poster ads thrown in). With a worldwide search for “Vintage L’Heure Bleue Fragrance,” eBay UK gave me seven results: 2 empty bottles, 2 EDTs, 1 EDC, 1 extrait from America, and 1 microscopic 2 ml mini extrait. The simple fact of the matter is American sellers have more vintage fragrances, but not even they have a ton of L’Heure Bleue.
My suggestion is to be patient, but also to expand your search. On eBay, keep an eye on the regular L’Heure Bleue listings, since someone might not realise that their bottle is a vintage one or mislabel their entry.
On top of that, consider other sites, like Etsy, for example. A search for “Vintage L’Heure Bleue” produced 31 results, and a few were bottles that were not offered on eBay. One shop, Starlet Fume, has a huge stock of vintage fragrances, 139 in total right now, and many of them are Guerlains, including five vintage L’Heure Bleue bottles. (The 6th result in that search is a huge, 250 ml hand-painted, gold leaf “Bee bottle,” but it’s from 2014.) Unfortunately, she doesn’t ship outside the US, and her prices are higher than what I’ve seen for comparable bottles on eBay, like her 1970 Rosebud L’Heure Bleue that is only about 10 ml full but priced at $225. That said, you should absolutely check out her store and offerings if you’re in the US. If you’re not but you discover something you really want, then, again, you may want to see if a friend located in America will let you use his/her address for receipt and then ship it to you.
Just to let you know, though, Etsy sellers are located all around the world. Parfums de Paris in the UK has a 2 oz, Baccarat, limited edition flacon of L’Heure Bleue extrait from a special, numbered release in the 1990s. It costs a whopping $2,241, but she ships to “selected countries,” in this case, the US and the UK. However, the listing says “reserved for TC.” I assume it’s a friend, but it’s strange that there is an option to add it to one’s cart (and it worked when I used it in a test run). I personally think $2200+ is excessively high for a 1990s bottle, but then limited-edition stuff never does much for me.
Having said that, I strongly encourage both men and women vintage lovers in the UK to check out her store which has 429 listings, 333 of which are classified as “women’s vintage fragrances.” 18 are men’s vintages, including one listing for 3 ml decants of Guerlain’s Cuir de Russie from a flacon that dates to 1872!! I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that. (If I weren’t so wary of the Royal Mail and how fragrances are confiscated unless FedEx is used — usually for crazy shipping prices — then I would instantly order a decant for myself.)
I fear I’ve gotten carried away and a little off track, but the point is that there are alternative to eBay if you’re looking for vintage L’Heure Bleue or for vintage fragrances in general. Etsy’s prices are sometimes a lot higher, but the selection is sometimes better, there is no auction bidding, and sellers are subject to feedback ratings just like on eBay so you can assess their reliability. While the individual fragrances that I’ve linked to here will undoubtedly be sold in the coming weeks, both the general eBay search links and the individual Etsy store ones will remain viable even if you stumble across this post in a year or two.
Those reviews of vintage Guerlains are so detailed and complete dear Kafka that I actually feel the urge to find a bottle of an extrait… For now I should consider myself lucky with my vintage extrait of Mitsouko from the 70ies and an 81 edt bottle of Jicky…( perhaps you ll review Mitsouko in the forthcoming future?)
I would like to use this occasion to state that I am particulary grateful to you and your blog: your advice and my readings helped and forced me to exit my safe zone and nowdays I use perfumes that I would never even sniff… Thx Kafka! I mean it.
You’re so welcome, Alexc!!! Really and truly welcome. I’m delighted I could have helped in some way. What makes me happiest is that I’ve helped you leave your safe zone and that you’re now enjoying/wearing fragrances that you once would never have even considered. That means a lot to me.
And, yes, I’ll definitely review vintage Mitsouko at some point, probably at the end of the year. 🙂 My extraits aren’t particularly old, though, and my EDP is from the 1980s, but it should be enough to give a minor sense of the perfume. (PS — I know I owe you an email reply and I’m so sorry I haven’t written. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages now but, as you can see, the vintage Guerlain reviews have taken up a lot of my time over the last 6 weeks. But I promise, I haven’t forgotten you and will write as soon as things settle down a bit!)
Excellent article. I am a fan of antique/vintage wares of the art and practical/functional kind. Among others,posters whether they be of travel or propaganda , jewelry, pottery,etc. I started collecting jewelry, for pottery can be a bit heavy when you move. Think of boxes of books. So I am happy to see that a portion of your recent articles cover vintage perfumes. Recently I was at my friends antique shop, and she had a few bottles of perfume that I took notice of. One was a bottle of Hermes, Vert de Orange, the other was a bottle of Shalimar . The bottle of Shalimar was ,I beleive, the watch bottle. It had the red circle sticker in the middle .I don’t know much about vintage Shalimar, so I opted for an almost full bottle of the Hermes for I believe $10.00. I did a little research when I came home, and I think the Shalimar is before 1999. The bottle itself was only about a 1/3 full, so I didn’t go back for it, but the one thing I did notice was the depth of the fragrance itself. It was very nice. So it sent me on a quest to local old barber shops asking if they had any bottles sitting in the back of their shops like tonics etc, for sale. I think the smell of the Shalimar , coupled with Oriza’s Vetiver Royal Bourbon , of which I adore and would classify as a barber, that’s just me though, sent me on this journey. No luck yet, but they said they would check. I used to have old barber bottles. My favorite was an aqua green, 12 sided , porcelain top in excellent condition . That reminds me. Don’t give old perfume bottles to women as a gift. It’s deemed as USED. I gave some gorgeous perfume bottles of the cut class sterling top kind, as birthday gifts. They weren’t well received . Funny though, vintage jewelry is though.Whoops, I am rambling, what I am I talking about, oh. I am happy that you are covering vintage Guerlain, for it expands my searches. BTW, I have picked the Serge Luten Bell Jar fragrance that I want, Filles. I haven’t ordered it yet. Thanks again,Eddie .
LOL at “pottery can be a bit heavy when you move.” I can imagine. 😀 I always enjoy reading your comments, Eddie, and the peek inside whatever thing you are currently exploring. I hope you find some really old Shalimar and barber shop scents. With Shalimar, definitely go as old or as high a concentration as you can, because I think you’d like it a lot.
Thank you for these reviews, your bottles are just gorgeous! I can use those pictures as reference when hunting down my own bottle of the vintage! I wanted to ask if you like My Sin or Dioressence I love both and would like to see you hopefully planning on reviewing them in the future if you wear them personally.
I’ve never tried vintage My Sin. I’m not keen on aldehydic fragrances, so I rarely seek them out. There are a handful of extremely rare exceptions (like Chamade), but My Sin is not one of them. As for Dioressence, I did try it a few times decades ago, back in the 1980s, but I never wore it or owned it. There won’t be reviews on either fragrance, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.
You surpass yourself with every article! I’ll be honest, my L’Heure Bleue edp is from 2009, and even though I found it sad at first I’ve come to really really enjoy it. I’d love to find the vintage extrait, though I’m afraid I’ll enjoy it so much that I won’t be able to afford all the perfumes I’m watching on eBay. I should have been worn richer and in a different era!! Happy week Kafka!
Meant to say ‘born’!
We BOTH should have been born richer and in a different era! Haha. 😀 😛 I know what you mean, though. Given that you’ve come to enjoy your 2009 LHB, I hope you will one day get the chance to try a vintage extrait. I know enough of your tastes by now to say that I think you’d be quite impressed!
I have to talk to you, before i even finish reading.
Tonight i have to work late but i have about 40 min for a break, and I’m using it to print and read your thoughts on LHB.
I have the 2003 version, and there is no food at all in it-and it’s certainly nostalgic. i made my brother smell it on me-he thought the same thing. then he wondered what people would have been wearing during those times, and how would the fragrance be applied? For women, the dresses would have been silk, or cotton, right? And where would they have put it on-their person, or perhaps a scented handkerchief? He thought that perhaps the scent would come wafting through layers of beautiful fabric.
And I hav read from many sources that Charlie Chaplin described his version of an elegant woman-one who wore only a faint Eau de Cologne during the day, but at night she wore LHB. That quote stayed with me, and somehow made me want to emulate that sort of elegance.
OK-off to read, and reread, and digest the thoughts. I’ll comment again, if that’s alright with you, once I have had some more time with your beautiful post-thanks for this!
PS-off topic, but recently there have been sightings of schools of dolphins, mutiple eagles here. Not unusual at this time of year but they have been joined by2 humback whales! Driving home the other night I thought I was losing my mind. I saw a huge whale, the white underbelly up in the air. amazing!
The whales, Carole, the whales…!! Wow, you lucky devil, you. I’m envious. It must have been quite a sight to behold. (Not that eagles and dolphins are shabby by any measure!) I wish there were a WordPress emoji to signify beauty.
Please comment as often or as little as you want, my dear. I certainly enjoy hearing from you whenever you comment.
In response to your brother’s query, in the old days, most women seem to have just dabbed tiny amounts of parfum on key points like their wrist or collarbone. Small quantities particularly as compared to how we apply things today because, back then, pure parfum was seen as such an extreme luxury, especially during/after the wars and during rationing. (Post-war in Europe as well as during the war. It was obviously a little different after WW2 in the US.) Also, back then, fragrances generally came just in parfum, cologne, or EDT concentrations. So, I can’t imagine them applying luxurious parfum all over their clothing or furs. Scented waters were quite different, though. People used that often and in large quantities. Both men and women applied it to their handkerchiefs, as you noted.
In terms of men, even if cologne was more affordable than the women’s standby, parfum, they didn’t lavish it on, either, because it was seen in poor taste for a man to be enveloped in scent. Undoubtedly, there was a social subtext of being like a woman if they smelled too strongly of scent. So men wore discreet amounts, too.
However, things were quite different in prior centuries when hygiene practices were more… er.. limited, shall we say? Louis the XIV’s court at Versailles was notorious for smelling like urine in corners of the rooms. The palace was huge, people didn’t always have the time to go back to their rooms to urinate, so they just peed where they could. Chamber pots were discreetly placed in banquet rooms and the like, but weren’t always used, especially if the person was drunk. Between the smells in the air and the smell of people who weren’t well bathed, the place had quite a stench. To counter that, extremely strong scented waters, scented hair powders, and civet paste were used. I’ve read that in England in the early 1700s, men used to smear a layer of pure civet under their noses before going out or walking in the streets to offset the stench of urine and feces in the street. I’m sure the French did something similar.
I think practices started to change during Victorian times when both bathing, hygiene, and personal discretion were highlighted as important social mores. Improved urban planning and sanitation helped with the street smells, too, though not in any way that we would consider the equivalent of modern standards. But there wasn’t quite such a need to offset environmental stench with strongly scented products as there had been before.
I may have digressed a little, so forgive me. But I hope that answers some of your questions. Tell your brother from me that I agree with him regarding the 2003 version not having much “food” to it. 🙂 I hope you (and he) will get the chance to try a really old version because I think you’d both be quite amazed at the difference.
From your description, this doesn’t appeal to me as much as Shalimar does, but I might look into getting a decant of one from the 1960s anyway, if I can find it!
Fascinating! Wearing the current EDP at the moment. I assumed LHB changed to some degree over the years, but this seems almost like a “personality” change.
It does seem like it, doesn’t it? In reality, though, things like concentration, evaporation, reduction of notes over time, etc., etc., all play a big part in things. As I said in the review, fragrances aren’t really intended to be worn 60+ years after they were released. LOL. Plus, one has to also consider the fact that the companies often tweak the ratio of elements in a fragrance formula from one concentration to the next. So, for example, the ratios in the EDP may not be the same as for the EDT. When one adds in the reformulation issue, even pre-IFRA/EU rules, just the basic reformulation that companies do over time for common, basic cost-of-production reasons — then there is yet another variable at play.
So, to compare something from the 1960s to a modern fragrance is like comparing steak to … well, something quite different. It’s illustrative, but it’s an unequal playing field. My goal was not to compare modern to vintage, but vintage to vintage with just a passing commentary on the modern for people who have only tried those recent ones. It’s vintage that really interests me because I have great issues with the post-IFRA/EU reformulations of the legends. So, the thing that is intellectually interesting to me is how one particular vintage concentration compares to another vintage concentration over consecutive decades. Like, for example, how vintage Shalimar parfum smelt in the 1950s vs the 1960s vs the 1970s. That’s the sort of thing that helps me, as a buyer, should I want to buy that concentration.
The problem in trying to do that with L’Heure Bleue is that the scarcity and subsequent high cost of vintage bottles (in most concentrations!) made such comparisons almost impossible. I didn’t have more bottles from different eras to compare in the way that I did for Shalimar.
Anyway, I fear I’ve digressed and I’ve certainly gone beyond the parameters of your reply, so forgive me for rambling. I do that when I’m badly sleep deprived. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, Pjmcbride, and have a great week. 🙂
Dear Kafka, this was such an amazing read! I enjoyed every bit and you covered it so well. It surely seems like an entirely different fragrance to what is on the shelves now. For some reason, I struggle with LHB even though I feel like I “should” love it. I love every note listed in it currently, I love iris, candied violets, heliotrope and gourmand approach to florals, but still something is not completely right. I have a decant from what I believe is around 2010/2011, it is hard to tell as it was obtained from one of the decanting sites at that time but I can’t know how old their bottle was. It is deep yellow in color. I once smelled a “vintage”version from my friends mother, I guess that bottle might be from the 90s but that was even harder for me, smelling slightly dated. I generally struggle with leathery facets in scents and I guess the current version is more suitable for my unrefined tastes. Even though it is not quite right yet, I don’t give up on LHB and I try it out from time to time cos I believe the day will come when I will finally “get”it. I think such crazy thing is something only us perfumistas would do. Once I run out of my decant (which will be any day now) I’ll get the current formulation as I hear Wasser did a good job with it. However, I read earlier this year that the production of LHB was briefly suspended due to an ingredient that seemed to go “off” somehow. So I’m a bit worried to get an “off” batch since I can’t buy it in my town and must order online…Oh, perfumista worries..
I’ve been thinking about your situation, and you know what might be helpful, Vernona? To try to figure out the possible source of whatever factor is causing your unease since you say that you normally love all the notes that are in LHB, from violets to the rest. It might help beyond just L’Heure Bleue, either current or vintage. If it’s a specific note or concentration issue, then pinpointing the source of the problem might help you in general in terms of any fragrances. (Of course, if it helps you to find a version of L’Heure Bleue that you love, all the better. LOL.)
So, if you’re interested, then perhaps you can describe the sensation, smell, or element that you’re not enjoying while wearing it? Also, just as importantly, perhaps even more so, what is the concentration of your decant and do you recall the concentration of your mother’s friend’s bottle that you smelt back in the 1990s?
What I’m thinking, based on what you’ve said thus far, is that it’s a combination of things. First, at a guess, I think you’re having issues with the indoles. They’re extremely common in white florals like orange blossom, jasmine, and tuberose — and all three are present in this fragrance. Second, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re reading the indoles’ muskiness and darkness as “leathery,” since the LHB versions of the decades that you’re talking about didn’t really contain actual leather raw materials (like birch, for example).
Third, depending on what concentrations you’re wearing or have tried, it may be too high and, therefore, too heavy for your personal tastes. Companies often tweak a fragrance’s formula from one concentration to the next. It will be the same basic fragrance but the ratios of some notes (or all notes) may differ from the EDT to the EDP to the Extrait. Chanel, for example, does this from what I’ve heard for many or most of its fragrances, and they’re not the only one.
So, let’s say that we figure out that you’re struggling with Note X. Let’s also say that it’s one of the indolic flowers. The proportion or ratio of that flower may be higher or lower from one concentration to the next. So, when that note is combined with everything else, like other indolic flowers, the result may be the leatheriness that you’re struggling with or whatever the exact problem may be. Does that make sense?
There is something else to consider as yet another possible contributory factor. To continue the example, if it turns out that you’ve been wearing LHB in EDP concentration and *IF*, on top of all that, your personal tastes are for lighter, softer, fresher fragrances, then you may be wearing a version that is too heavy for you. If you’re wearing the EDP, you may want to consider trying the EDT or even the cologne. If it’s the EDT that is giving you problems, then go for a lighter, weaker, and lower concentration like the EDC. Perhaps opting for a different concentration will alleviate the problem. Given that you normally love heliotrope, violets, iris, and gourmand violets, you might even end up with a version of LHB that you love a lot!
So, those are just some things to think about. 🙂
I’ve just written like the longest reply ever and it just got lost! Don’t you just love when that happens! 😉
Here goes again.
Dearest Kafka, thank you so much for taking so much time to reply and try to help me out! I’m always delighted by how lovely people in the perfume community are!
It is very hard for me to detect the specific note that bothers me as I’m not that good in discerning all notes and nuances, especially less pronounced ones. My decant is an edp. The on from my friend’s mother is an edp too. The woman is 50 and she told us she bought it when she was around 30 but rarely wore it. So my guess is that it’s from the 90s. It may also be that it has gone slightly off as it is 20 yrs old and IDK how she stored it.
I usually go for edp in perfumes as I like heavier, richer perfumes. Now that I think of it, maybe it’s the treatment of violets.. Lipsticky scents such as Lipstick Rose or Misia didn’t work for me either. Both ok and nice but not quite right.
It is not iris, because I love iris, but am very picky about it and have a hard time finding the right one. I loved the discontinued Iris Ganache immensly, it pushed all the right buttons for me (iris+gourmand) but that one is gone and I haven’t found anything similar to it to fill the void. 🙁 It is when IG got disco’d that I began my iris quest and LHB often came up when searching for iris perfumes so I tried and I tried but we never clicked. The only other two iris scents that I found bottle worthy were VCA Bois d’Iris, which I own and Heeley Iris de Nuit, which I plan on getting. Both very different than IG, so they fill an entirely different space in my wardrobe, while the IG space remains empty :(.
It is not the indoles either because I love the heady, rich white florals. I love tuberose,gardenia, jasmine, orange blossom… I wear Beyond Love, Carnal flower, Lutens FdO, Jasmin Full, Intense tiare among others. I’d wear A La Nuit too, if it lasted longer than 20 minutes on my skin. However, as you can maybe detect, all of these stand on the “prettier”and more tropical side of the spectrum.
And last but maybe most important part – my perfume tastes. Most vintage classics don’t appeal to me. I love gourmand scents, adore vanilla, I love creamy tropical florals, beachy, suntan lotion kind of scents, tiare, warm ambers, sweet spicy orientals and hardly anything is too sweet for me… I dislike fresh and clean, dislike green scents, most citrus frags, aldehydes, chypres, heavy patchouly… So as you figured by now, I don’t have the most refined of tastes and maybe therein lies the problem (or the answer) to why such elegant beauty as LHB doesn’t work for me.
Oh my.. I apologize for taking up so much space on your blog with my ramblings. And pardon any language mistakes as english is not my native tongue. Thank you so much for this conversation because I so love to discuss perfume! Hugs to you dear Kafka!
Yes, I often think about that fuggy note in vintage frags, I’m in my sixties and am an old old campaigner in the aldehyde era, and like Kafka, never liked them, I’d run a mile from the No 5s and Arpeges….when I got vintage obsessed I tried them all again and nope still don’t like them! But I think it’s the middle notes tha seem to consist of some base that was in everything, a rose/Jasmine/Iris nexus and seems to oxidise or something. It’s not so bad in top quality like Guerlains and not as noticeable.
Chanel No. 5 and the Arpeges…. *biggest shudder imaginable*
Your English was perfect, and so was your reply because your explanation gave me a rather good sense of your tastes. One thing I think you MUST try is SHL 777’s Khol de Bahrein, an iris-violet-heliotrope amber-oriental-gourmand. Another fragrance which may work for you but, also, may not given its rather vintage feel is Grossmith’s Shem-el-Nessim. It’s rather like L’Heure Bleue but its small differences may possibly make it a better version of LHB for you. On an unrelated style/genre of perfumery, I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid, if you have not tried it already. A rich, opulent, boozy floral oriental with a slight beachy aspect to it, as well as rich vanilla. It’s a personal favourite of mine.
In terms of Iris Ganache, Sultan Pasha Attars’ extremely gourmand Sohan D’Iris is a bit similar and it’s a rich attar that’s very popular with fans of Iris Ganache. Definitely worth trying and sampling if you can. A little drop goes a long, long way, as I tried to explain in my Sultan Pasha Overview post. I haven’t reviewed Sohan d’Iris, but you can find it on his eBay store which is linked in that overview. The other fragrances I’ve mentioned here have reviews if you want to read them to see if the fragrances sound like something you might enjoy. L’Heure Bleue simply may not be for you — and that’s perfectly fine and normal! We all have some fragrance or another that simply doesn’t fit or “click,” no matter how much we try, and you’ve certainly given LHB plenty of chances. It may be time to move on and find something that actually IS a perfect fit for you! Life is too short and too complicated to struggle with fragrances. 😀
Dear Kafka, how can I thank you enough for taking the time and thinking about what might suit me! And you nailed it, you chose everything so right – exactly the things that I would choose for myself!
And thank you for complimenting me on my english, I actually studied for two years to be an english teacher, but then switched to medicine… Boy, do I regret that now! 😉
On to the subject…
Khol de Bahrain – I’m so glad you mentioned it because I have some unfinished business with that one. I mean, what’s not to love in there, right? When I started my search for an IG replacement, this sounded just right. I read all the reviews, I read yours like 5 times and how you bought it etc. etc. I loved it before I even sniffed it. So I ordered a sample, nice 3 ml in there, prepared to be swept off my feet; I mean, the iris, the nugat… I was allready passing out in pure chocolate iris bliss, but then I sprayed it on… and my dreams went down the drain… 😉 It just wasn’t what I expected. I don’t know, not that it was bad, far from it, but I imagined it would smell completely different. Expectations are a weird thing.The iris note had such a strong resemblance to an iris cheap thrill by L’Erbolario. They are not really similar perfumes but the way the iris is done… It’s hard for me to explain. So I put my sample away and smelled it one more time afterwards, but with same results. I guess my brain was imagining an Iris Ganache sibling, but got an entirely different scent. Nonetheless, it smelled of quality and even the price was great. I still want to love it.
I dug out my sample just now, and I will give it another go – without expectations and without comparisons to IG. I’ve been wanting to do that for some time now but I always have tonnes of other samples to try, now you reminded me. I feel like I might be missing out on something, I have found many perfume loves by revisiting. I tend to dismiss fragrances too quickly on first sniff. I will sniff it as soon as I can, because I have a terrible cold right now and can’t smell a darn thing. I will let you know what I think of it then, on the right thread.
About the Sultan pasha – I’ve never tried anything by him, I would love to, but it is so hard to get. As i understand, only through his ebay store. I am a bit (a lot) put off by the price. That Iris sounds heavenly, but over 3000 eur for 3 ml of something. And I must blind buy it… Maybe someday, when I win the lottery 😉
Senual Orchid also didn’t work. Too boozy, too something, I have no idea what. I so wanted to love a LM fragrance, but I am yet to find one that would work. I had high hopes for Sensual&Decadent, being more of a gourmand, but still no go..
You see, dear Kafka, I’m a tough crowd ;). And you are absolutely right, I shouldn’t be trying too much to love a scent, noone should, especially with so much choice out there,,,
Ok, I killed you with this long post and I shall stop now… Loved talking to you and looking forward to new posts!
I thoroughly enjoy your posts and their detail, so don’t stop on my account! I’m the last person who would object to length, after all. LOL.
In terms of Sultan Pasha scents, Sohan d’Iris is €349 for 3 ml, not 3000 (YIKES, definitely not 3000!!!), but I would never recommend you getting 3 ml anyway. And most definitely NOTHING bought blindly, my dear! I don’t recommend blind buys for almost anything!!
I would suggest a sample set, and he should have those back on the site soon. They should be about €50 or so, I think, and there are about 20 fragrances, or maybe it’s €30 for 10, I can’t recall. In any event, should you like a fragrance, 1 ml would last you almost a lifetime because you don’t apply it like a regular fragrance at all. You don’t even apply a drop because 1 drop is too much. You use the end of a paperclip or pin to apply less than a drop! As Luca Turin said about his 1 ml sample, it would last him a lifetime, so you certainly wouldn’t have to buy a 3 ml. Either way, I *ALWAYS* recommend sampling first, so look at the site next week to see if he’s put up the sample sets, and you can test it that way.
In terms of the Khol de Bahrein, giving something a second try is a good idea in general, especially if you do so without expectations of another fragrance in mind (that’s important!), but, again, if something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. There are only so many tries one can give a fragrance, I think. At the end of the day, YOU are the only one wearing something, no-one else, so trust in your own gut and what moves you or doesn’t move you. 🙂
Have a great weekend, my dear. I very much enjoyed our chat.
Another amazing, thoughtful, detailed review! Thank you so much. I love vintage LHB but (as a man) find its florals sometimes difficult to wear, though of course the emphasis in the older extrait is very different – and the natural musk is stunning. The PdT, on the other hand, I find extremely spicy.
As far as your bottles are concerned (the ones in the first photo) – I’m afraid they aren’t Baccarat, since they’re pressed glass and not crystal (and don’t have the Baccarat mark). The one with the heart-shaped stopper (bouchon coeur) is by Pochet et du Courval (whose HP mark can be seen in one photo). The umbrella model could have been made by one of three factories: Pochet et du Courval, Verreries Brosse or Saint-Gobain – Desjonquères. You really have to watch those eBay listings: so many are described as ‘Baccarat’ or ‘crystal’ when they’re nothing of the sort, alas. Still, they’re lovely bottles – and the contents even lovelier!
Thank you for letting me know! I’m particularly glad to know the meaning of the squiggly mark on the bottle base. I’ll correct the post immediately. Thank you again.
My pleasure! And apologies if it sounds nitpicky. I am, I confess, a Guerlain nerd.
No, no, I like facts and specifics. And, honestly, all these glass companies… they make my head spin. LOL. Also, as a side note, I think nerds are cool, no matter what the field. It’s merely another form of OCD after all. Heh.
Anyway, I was actually going to send you another reply to ask you if, perchance, you might know the significance (if any) of the “B” imprint on the back of the brown/beige presentation box? It’s one of those OCD detail things that’s been nagging at me.
The ‘B’ stamp is completely new to me and I have no idea what it means – sorry. Perhaps it’s a distributor or stockist’s mark?
Any of your guesses would be better than mine! I’m no design/dating/bottle expert. 🙂 Would you mind if I quoted the portion of your comment regarding the bottle manufacturers in the correction to my post? The part about the Pochet HP mark/symbol, and the other possible manufacturers of the Umbrella bottle? I would use your name as “Sam in London,” if that is permissible and if I have your consent? As I said, I appreciate facts, specifics, and experts — and this is far more your area of knowledge than mine. 🙂
Hello again. Yes, feel free to quote me if you think it would be helpful. My information comes from two sources: the guerlainperfumes blog (which you’ve referred to before) and the magisterial book on Guerlain bottles by Atlas and Monniot (1997).
No worries, I’ve edited out the personal, private information from your reply. I’m a stickler for privacy. However, deletion/editing permits me to retain the sources of your information and, in particular, the details on the Guerlain book. I’m sure a number of readers would be interested in reading it, so the author/publication date information enables them to look for it online. So, once again, you’re a font of helpful information, not just for me but for others as well.
You’re very welcome! It’s always a pleasure to talk perfumes with someone so knowledgeable. By the way, the Atlas/Monniot book has been out of print for some years but occasionally pops up on line.
Wonderful read……gave me the urge to top up my supplies of vintage but I now must have about a litre of the various vintages…..my first blind buy was LHB as the rosebud bottle of perfume because there were no testers in Australia back in the 70s. I’ll never forget the first whiff of the cool anise moon rising in the twilight of this magnificent thing. This was a perfume that nothing had prepared me for, except maybe vintage Ambush, the sandalwood, blue musk, cool notes….then cue three decades later and the Internet and the vintage hunt was on. My only real international mishap was a bottle of not just broken but ground into sand LHB edt…I could smell it as the delivery man opened his door! I thought, aha, genuine, oh no I’m busted! The US seller was great and just sent me another one, an eighties version that I love, I loved all the versions of the big three edt in those mesh canisters. (Not that clunky thing that came in with LMVH.)Yes I’m one who thinks that the opening up of this frag into lighter versions pre 2000 was not always bad but I’ve never really possessed a bottle later than 2000. But heck, you’re right about eBay now, we must’ve cleaned them out!
Oh, and the inner box…..it’s mysteriously pagan and to me represents the wheel of the year, I love how the sower on the front is already giving his seed back to the birds. But I’m terrible, I never keep boxes, I just HAVE to be able to handle and see the beautiful bottles when I open my dark cupboard….my daughter will probably regret it if she has to sell my hoard….and Raiders site, absolutely fantastic for my winter vintage hunt this year, even for more mainstream vintage….
I love your Pagan interpretation and theory! I think that’s marvelous.
As for never keeping the boxes, that made me smile a little. I’m always torn between wanting to keep the bottles as safe as possible (so, in the box) and wanting them out to admire them. I’ve ended up doing half of one, half of the other, depending on the fragrance in question, but I always keep the really old, classical, vintage boxes somewhere just in case. I could never throw out something like a Harvest box, simply because of its age and its unique look.
That broken bottle…. OUCH! It’s the sort of thing that makes me wince. Such a waste, such a pity. It’s not as though these fragrances are a dime a dozen and easily found. But what a fantastic eBay seller to provide another bottle. I’m glad. It makes the accident so much easier to shrug off.
Dear Kafka! Thank you SO much for this amazing read! You’ve managed to wipe out months of pre and post election anxiety, and I actually feel uplifted for the first time in awhile. LHB…where to start. It was LHB that pushed me feet first into the world of perfume collecting/hoarding (let’s just call it what it is, shall we?)
The 1970’s LHB Extrait is my jam, my precioussssss, my desert island perfume, one ‘fume to rule them all, and I am fortunate to have two damn near full 70’s bottles of the Extrait that were for sale on the various FB perfume forums.
LHB was the very first perfume that actually made me have to sit down when I smelled it, eyes rolled back in head, and huffing my wrist like a crack ho’ kind of experience. The fumes that do that for me are few and far between, the ones that are unspeakably beautiful works of art. So thank you for this. Doing my happy dance, and going back to re-read and take notes! Xoxo -Robert H.
Awww, you’re so welcome, my dear. I’m glad I could alleviate your mood and spirits a little. Frankly, political fatigue is one of the many reasons why I’m escaping into vintages these days.
A big LOL at your comment –“hoarding (let’s just call it what it is, shall we?” 😀 😛 I relate and know exactly what you mean, particularly for those fragrances that touch one deeply. I knew you loved LHB, but I didn’t know it was THE one to rule them all for you, your desert island fragrance. Are you sure 2 bottles is enough? I actually mean that in all seriousness, and I’m not being even remotely snarky. Two bottles of one’s ULTIMATE scent are nothing, particularly when those bottles can’t be easily replaced if you use them up. And why not wear a source of such joy as frequently as you can manage or, at least, more frequently than 2 tiny bottles might permit for hoarders like us? Have you sought to try/obtain older versions if possible to see how they might compare, or has the incredible scarcity of the old extraits been a stumbling block?
I’ve had an incredible run of good luck lately with hunting down unicorns. In the past four months I’ve managed to snag 3 that have been on my list forever! So finding a great vintage LhB won’t be a huge problem I suspect. Just recently a perfume pal of mine (yes, YOU Barbara C.!) was lucky enough to get a stonking big bottle of the extrait from the late 30’s at an estate sale, and she very kindly tapped off a few ml. into a decant for me. Blew my head off!! So surreal. So who knows? Anything is possible, but I’ll let you know if one falls into my lap!
Yes darling – it is a mind bending experience what fell into my lap from an estate sale, and the quality of the perfume was beyond my wildest dreams! The bottle was so honking big – 2 oz. etched Baccarat. I am still wrapping my head around this one! I just loved this article, I will have to post a note below.
Fabulous article on one of my two all-time favourite scents (the other being Shalimar). I am fortunate enough to have many bottles of both in varying vintages and concentrations going back to at least the 1950s and I have to say that for me a) it has to be extrait and b) the older the better! Jacques Guerlain was truly a genius. Thank you for this beautiful review.
Welcome to the blog, Diane, and thank you for sharing your feelings about vintage LHB. I complete agree with you on Jacques Guerlain. What a brilliant, brilliant master and genius he was.
I gasped out loud when I saw the topic of this post! I LOVE l’Heure Bleue, though I’ve only encountered the very recent version. It was instant love for me when I sprayed it on a whim at a Guerlain counter. I think I only sprayed it because the sales lady wanted to sell me something modern and girlish. That was the EDT, which has never smelled as divine on me again (see below) – I would keep sniffing the cardigan I’d worn that day and swoon. I ended up buying a refill for the spray version of the parfum at a bargain price and used up half the bottle in one summer.
One spray is too much for me – it’s like I can taste the heliotropin, all bitter and almondy like I imagine cyanide would be – but sprayed on a cotton ball and dabbed it can be perfect. I will always associate it with being a postgraduate student, so it’s definitely a bittersweet perfume for me. For me, it only blooms in summer, when it goes sweeter and richer, all flowers and benzoin and vanilla. In winter it smells bitter and beer-like on my skin and just refuses to cooperate. My mum wears the EDT fabulously in summer. On her it smells all purple and inky, full of iris and violets. On me it goes so awful I give everyone (myself included) headaches. Oh, well! There’s always the parfum. 😉
Reading your post, I’m so intrigued by the birch wood/sandalwood thing. They smell nothing alike to me, so it seems weird to use one as a substitute for the other. And I wonder if the weird taste I get in my mouth when I spray the EDT, or too much of the parfum, is a recent thing? Maybe the acrid, grainy vanilla might be another culprit, not just the heliotropin? If that’s the case, I might get on really well with an older bottle…
Anyhow. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your posts on vintage scents. Even when the scent itself scares me (Bal a Versailles), I have a terrific time reading about it.
And one last thing: if I enjoy l’Heure Bleue, do you think I might like Khol de Bahrein? I’m thinking of sampling it.
So, lets start with your last question first: yes, you should ABSOLUTELY try Khol de Bahrein given the notes you love!! I’m not a huge Iris lover, and that is the only one I wear or own. Its heliotrope is gorgeous, particularly with the amber, and its vanilla is nice, too. (But I prefer the vanilla in vintage Shalimar extrait.) On a separate side note, if you might also want to consider trying Grossmith’s Shem-el-Nessim. It actually preceded L’Heure Bleue by 4 years, coming out in 1908, and it, like LHB, was inspired by Coty’s L’Origan. I haven’t tried its vintage version but modern Shem-el-Nessim EDP is lovely!
With regard to your LHB difficulties, I honestly think it’s due to the highly synthetic nature of the materials. It sounds as if everything is going south for you. While the heliotrope’s “cyanide” feel/vibe may be the biggest culprit, I doubt it’s the only one. The ghastly vanillin left an actual physical aftertaste in my mouth and all along the back of my throat, but the white musk and the sandalwood might also be additional factors, either separately or together. It’s quite possible that it is actually the combination of all 4 things at once that is proving to be too much for you. So, I really, really encourage you to try LHB in an older version, ideally a 1980s-1990s one. Start with an EDT or EDP, possibly even an EDC concentration. I wouldn’t try the extrait in a really old bottle, though.
I don’t know your location but a number of eBay sellers sell samples of LHB in various concentrations. If you’re in the US, there is a lady I use — Vivien Treasures — on eBay who sells samples of a number of Guerlains in both vintage cologne and extrait form. (Again, for you, I’d suggest skipping the extrait until we first figure out if you actually like LHB in its older, not heavily synthetic form.)
In terms of your birch/sandalwood question, I agree that it is strange, but that’s what Guerlain seemed to do for a number of its fragrances in the 1980s. Even new fragrances created and released in that era had a sandalwood base, like Nahema for example. Jacques Guerlain’s creations, however, invariably came with a leather accord or component in the base.
I hope that helps a little. Definitely try Khol de Bahrein and vintage LBH, though!
Well I sure don’t know where I got those 3000 eur! It’s late over here and I’m staring at my mobile phone screen and I obviously must be seing double digits… I must say I’m relieved, 340 eur is more like it. Still a lot, but livable in comparison to 3000 (my first thought was, is he putting milled diamonds in those 3 mls??). I will definitely be eying on those sample sets or I might as well send him a message if he’d sell me a sample of the Iris…. Either way, those notes sound amazing and thank you for telling me about it! I’ve never worn an attar before and I must admit I can’t imagine wearing such small amount. I mean, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that the tiniest drop can smell like actual sprayed-on perfume…
One more question, do you think the new L’attesa stands a chance with me? Beginning next month I’ll be ordering stuff from Essenza Nobile and this (rather expensive, 12 eur) sample is going in too. I have some (won’t say high) hopes!
Off to bed hoping my nose will improve by tomorrow, I NEED to smell something!
Best to you, dear!
What a fantastic post, Kafka! I had mostly forgotten that I have several vintage L’Heure Bleue which I’ve acquired in the past few years. My first one almost caused me to never buy vintage: because of concerns about spillage in transit, the seller emptied the contents into a glass bottle and sent me the bottle and the box all nestled inside a recycled plastic greeting card box. Weirdly, the bottom of the bottle itself had no markings whatsoever but the box looked authentic enough. I just took a sniff of the juice and I really could not tell how it compares to what I think is an older bottle. I’ll have to try it on skin at some point but I am not as interested since I feel the perfume had been compromised due to what the seller did.
My pièce de résistance vintage LHB is likely from no later than 1937. It came in a harvest box without the outer packaging. The inside of the box is lined in silk and did not have the Marly Horse logo. The bottle has the Baccarat acid etching on the bottom. Although there was no stamp like what you described, the seller included a card which looked sufficiently old with “Happy Birthday [someone’s name which I couldn’t decipher], July 30, 1937”! I wore the juice on skin (my normal application method just did not seem like the right thing to do!). Since I had never tried the modern LHB, I couldn’t compare. I got powdery Play-Doh (in a good way), lipstick-like accord of violets, spicy carnation, earthy uncarrotty iris, something smoky and leathery. It’s only been on my skin for less than two hours and I have not smelled the vanilla or anything sweet – perhaps because I only put on one tiny spritz on my forearm as a patch test. In any case, I like what I have on and I will be wearing this more in the future!
I have another LHB bottle which I have not opened yet…with a harvest box without the Marly Horse. The bottom of the bottle looks exactly like the picture of the bottom of your extrait bottle. Without any other info to go on, I would assume this bottle is from the 1960s as well.
Thanks again for a wonderful post which, in turn, spurred me to check my collection more closely!
Thank you so much for this!
Here was me thinking I knew about vintage L’Heure Bleue just because I have a PdT tester.
Smoky, leathery, indolic? In a L’Heure Bleue? This cancels out any other full-bottle ambitions I may have been harbouring for the next 9 months…
The PdT tester, by the way, says on the side “Semi-oriental flowery” and “Dominant notes: heliotrope, vanilla”. (Its batch code is ZT 2BA 2, which according to Raiders of the Lost Ark places it in 1982 or 1992, just before or after the range of years suggested here.)
Kayliz, I’m delighted I could tempt you into exploring L’Heure Bleue in older form. I hope you find a good bottle for a good price, and that you end up loving it. Let me know how you fare, and also what you think of the older extraits as compared to your PdT. 🙂
Thank you! It will take months, I think, but I will report back:)
Amazingly, someone put a partially used but clean bottle of extrait up for swapping on German parfumo, so I am now the very proud owner of a version from the early 1950s. As the seller said, the top notes are off. All is well after the first five minutes, though, and I’m fascinated with its complexity. The 2011 old spray version of the extrait is very linear by comparison, and yes, very much sweeter — but I would still say the vintage version is a sweet and powdery perfume. It is also smoky, and I wonder whether this would have counted as further evidence of it being spoiled, back in its time, or whether the smoke was always perceptible.
I’m not getting leather, unless… there’s a smoothness that emerges under the powder and the smoke; it chimes for me with your phrase “thick slab”. So far I’m thinking licorice, though, rather than leather.
Thank you for the wonderful article! I have bought a 0.8 cc (it was supposed to be 0.5 cc, but they were so generous to send more!) sample of ~1968 extrait via ETSY. It heavenly! I have the 2013 version, so definitely can smell a huge difference. Thank you again for the information and such detailed review 🙂
Wonderful! I’m delighted to hear that you love the vintage version, Marina. And how great that the Etsy seller sent you extra. Are you now hooked enough to look for more? 😉 😀
Absolutely! I decided to splurge and got another vintage from the end of 90s through them – will try and let you know! Thank you again 🙂
Bidding on one as of five mins ago, fingers crossed….
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I know I have missed the beautiful artwork and graphics you always find- always apropos
Somehow I missed this when it was published. L’Heure Bleu was my first Guerlain love and purchase, in about 2012 or so. I would love to smell the vintage scents. I have a sample from the 1980’s that smells quite wonderful to me. I picked up a bottle of the EDT at an estate sale that was signed by Roja Dove a few years ago. The label looks the the one on the limited edition you referenced. LHB is not the comfort scent like Shalimar is, but I enjoy wearing it. In some ways it reminds me of my vintage L’Air du Temps extrait from 1974, which is heavy on carnation. I enjoyed this post and will probably be looking for a vintage bottle so I can smell it for myself. Thanks for the thorough (as usual) review.
You’re very welcome, Reddtx. I hope you get your hands on one of the old versions of the vintage extrait because it’s definitely worth trying if you’re a longtime LHB lover. 🙂
dear and helpful kafka I love vintage guerlain.
I have a doubt ,I’ve done a lot of research on the use of baccarat crystal ending. know you if there’s a date that Guerlain stopping to use baccarat crystal?
sorry for my bad english.
No, I’m afraid I don’t know the date. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.
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