From chemistry

to alchemy

“Glory is fleeting; reputation alone lasts”

– Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain

The story of Guerlain is one of perfumes, people and place, Paris in particular. It has its roots in Founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain’s father’s spice shop in the French capital. There, the young man was influenced by the scents and ingredients from lands far away – and, so the story goes, was inspired to become a perfumer-chemist.

He opened his first store in 1828, quickly making a name for himself by taking a different, modern approach to fragrances & cosmetics in Paris at that time. Amid this period of glory and of decadence during the Second Empire, Guerlain caught the eye of royals at home and other visitors to France.

Then and Now: A historical shot of Guerlain’s store on 68 Champs
Elysées (above), and the expanded and upgraded interior today

“Every woman must have her own fragrance if she wants to be different”

– Aimé Guerlain

It was the connection with one leading figure of the era that brought Guerlain to a new level in the public consciousness, and changed the story of the brand forever.

In 1853, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain dedicated his L’Eau de Cologne Impériale to the Empress Eugénie on the occasion of her marriage with the Emperor Napoleon III. At the time, he decorated Guerlain bottles with a festoon motif, inspired by the tiles that adorned the top of the column of the Place Vendôme, and 69 bees, symbols of the Empire.

The ‘bee bottle’ was born and would become an icon linked to the Guerlain name. The motif has since has since inspired many Guerlain creations, decorated its products, and today features strongly in its commitment to sustainable development.

In 1864, Pierre-François-Pascal’s son, Aimé, began writing the next chapter of the family story.

The signature fragrance from his period as Master Perfumer was Jicky. For its time it was disruptive and even revolutionary, blending synthetic notes with natural ingredients in ways that had not been seen before. According to Guerlain, it “marked the beginning of modern perfumery”.

First opened in 1914, the House of Guerlain at 68 Champs Elysées
is a historic landmark in the brand’s story; above: Jicky, which appeared in 1889

“A good perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream”

– Jacques Guerlain

Aimé Guerlain’s time was also notable for breakthroughs in makeup. The biggest of these came in 1870 with the revolutionary Ne M’oubliez Pas, the House’s first bullet lipstick, presented in a refillable case featuring an innovative push slide. At the time, it was nothing short of revolutionary.

As third generation Master Parfumer and arguably the greatest influence on Guerlain’s direction for the next century and beyond, Jacques took over from his uncle in 1890. He gave the House’s creations a secret seal, composed largely of vanilla, along with balsams, bergamot, tonka bean and floral aromas such as iris, rose and jasmine. This guiding thread is known as the Guerlinade and has run through all the House’s perfumes for almost a century.

The time of Jacques Guerlain was one of daring and innovation. He created L’Heure Bleue in 1912, with its art nouveau bottle one of the first (of many) to be created in partnership with Baccarat. It remains a staple of the fragrance portfolio today.

Other signature scents included Mitsuoko, created in 1919 at a time when French public interest in Asia had reached new heights, buoyed by enthusiasm for Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and other cultural cues. Guerlain claims it was the first fruity fragrance, due to its creamy peach note – and although a female fragrance, it was adopted by men such as Charlie Chaplin, Sergei Diaghilev – the founder of the Russian Ballet – and dancer and choreographer Nijinsky.

Jacques Guerlain’s biggest breakthrough came with Shalimar, the world’s first oriental fragrance. It was created as a tribute to the 400-year-old Indian love story between the Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died prematurely and for whom the Taj Mahal and Shalimar Gardens were built. Shalimar remains synonymous with the House of Guerlain almost a century on from its 1925 launch.

Global reach: American GIs in Paris in the 1940s queue outside the Guerlain store to purchase Shalimar

“Perfume is the most intense form of memory”

– Jean-Paul Guerlain

Makeup was also very much part of the Guerlain story in the early 20th century, with creations such as Rouge d’Enfer, and in the 1930s Rouge Automatique, each featuring new design innovations that set the tone for the market.

Skincare too played a new role, notably in the 1930s when a tanned complexion became a reflection of social success. In tune with this, Guerlain created a sunless tanning product: Teint Doré Par Le Soleil, which was followed by other popular ranges in the years that followed.

Jean-Paul Guerlain served as apprentice alongside his grandfather Jacques before creating his first scent, Ode, at the age of 18 in 1955.

One of his great contributions was to pivot the Guerlain portfolio more towards men. In 1959 he created Vetiver, a spicy, woody line aimed at the South American market. Then, in 1965, he composed Habit Rouge, the first oriental fragrance for the male market.

The company still highlights Habit Rouge as “one of the gems in Guerlain’s male fragrance offering today”.

Later, in 1989, Jean-Paul Guerlain created Samsara, with strong notes of sandalwood, South Asian woods and jasmine.

It was also a time of new thinking around skincare. In 1984, Guerlain released Terracotta, the first travel-friendly make-up and a benchmark in bronzing powders. Today, one Terracotta powder compact is sold every 20 seconds around the world.

In 1987, small multi-coloured beads made their debut appearance in a box inspired by a powder compact belonging to Catherine de Medici. The launch of Météorites saw loose powder presented in the form of pearl-shaped balls for the first time – an innovation that meant the powder did not fly everywhere. To this day, they are manufactured by hand at Guerlain’s site in Chartres.

“I have always had within me this pressing thirst for the elsewhere, to go even further in search of new scents”

– Thierry Wasser

Thierry Wasser is the fifth generation of Guerlain Master Perfumers, and the first from outside the family (the company was acquired by LVMH in 1994).

He made his first big statement with the launch of La Petite Robe Noire, part of the Exclusive Collection, in 2009, a year after joining. Since then, his role has been one of exploration and discovery, as he notes.

“Before me, the previous Guerlain Perfumers had scoured the globe in a constant quest for the most marvellous raw ingredients for their perfumes. It was a profession, a passion and even an irrepressible need,” says Wasser. In 2017, he created Mon Guerlain, the latest blockbuster fragrance from the House (below), with Angelina Jolie as Muse helping to peak awareness around the world.

Through Creative Director Olivier Echaudemaison, makeup has become an even more elevated category within the portfolio over the past two decades. The neatly sculptured lipstick KissKiss appeared in 2005, and the memorable design of Rouge G was reinvented. Echaudemaison also reinvigorated Terracotta, enlivening the offer with new variations.

Echaudemaison has noted that “a woman does not go out without mascara” and has overseen the development of striking lines such as Cils d’Enfer, which sculpts the curve of the eyelashes, along with the refillable mascara Noir G, featuring an integrated mirror, which continues the collaboration with artistic designer Lorenz Bäumer for Rouge G lipstick.

Guerlain has also pioneered new techniques for protecting women’s skin from the effects of time and the elements. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain developed creams, lotions and ointments from Blanc de Perle to Lait d’Iris, and later Secret de Bonne Femme brought skincare into the modern age in 1904, offering light texture and full hydration.

How Guerlain celebrates the creative talents
that have built it into a force in fragrance over
190 years, at 68 Champs Elysées


Other signature skincare products have included Crémaliment in 1940 and Crème Supernourrissante and Émulsion d’Ambroisie, the brand’s first serum in the 1950s. In the 1980s, the House took on the creation of age-defying skincare with Issima and then Evolution.

In 2006, Orchidée Impériale was born from cutting-edge research and the power of the company’s new Imperial Orchid Molecular Extract technology. In 2017 a new generation of this line was introduced, aided by advanced research into the properties of the orchid and its role in beauty.

Guerlain’s work on age-defying skincare reached a new level with the 2010 arrival of Abeille Royale, created using honey and royal jelly from bees, harnessing their powerful repairing properties.

As noted, from 1853 the bee has been the symbol of the brand. Today, that heritage runs deeper, as Guerlain plays its part in protecting this threatened species, through a sustainable development partnership with the Brittany Black Bee Conservation Association on Ouessant Island, and other ventures.

Timeline of a brand

Key people and products in the Guerlain story