“When I first started at Guerlain, I smelled my mother everywhere,” says Isabelle Artus, editorial director at Guerl AIN. She is making a reference to the 90-year-old Shalimar, the iconic fragrance that liberated women wore in the 1960s and ’70s. At Guerlain’s perfume factory 40 minutes outside of Paris, the company is unveiling Mon Guerlain ($119), which the brand hopes will have the same kind of impact. The spokesperson for Mon Guerlain is Angelina Jolie, and she remembers her late mother wearing a “fancy” Guerlain powder. The company sent Jolie every powder it made, which she inhaled until she found “the one” and allegedly broke into a huge smile. It’s not a flight of fancy that perfume can transport us through time and space: Smell is the only sense that has a direct passage-way to the limbic system of the brain, where memory and emotions are stored. The new perfume’s quadrilobe bottle, adapted from one in the archives from 1908, is fire polished in Burma so that it gleams. The scent seems to say “I’ve arrived,” in both the physical and metaphorical sense.
Perfume cannot be digitized because it is too ritualistic, too personal, says Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s master perfumer. The name Mon Guerlain was chosen for this reason. He sees the scent’s formula as a portrait of a woman, as the pillar of society, fighting for her convictions and balancing her roles. The lavender represents her empathy and truth, vanilla her generous and maternal side, jasmine her passion and sandalwood her strength and resilience. “There are a thousand different ways of wearing perfume and a million motivations,” he continues, and chief among them is self-expression. “Perfume is a social medium. It’s how a woman communicates with her environment.” And what might this new scent say? “Women fought to be equal,” says Wasser. “It says ‘We’re going to fight for it.’” —Sarah Bancroft