The name of the Guerlain perfume Le Coque d’Or (the golden shell) is a pun on Le Coq d’Or a Rimsky-Korsakov opera-ballet from 1907, based on a poem by Pushkin. The Rimsky-Korsakov Golden Cockerel was first an opera with ballet, until Diaghilev, manager for Les Ballets Russes had the idea to let Fokine choreograph a ballet to which the singers would sing from the side, not act. I assume it was in this version that Jacques Guerlain would have seen Le Coq d’Or and have been inspired to create a fragrance on a theme.
An astrologer starts the tale, it is a magical satire dressed up as a fairy tale opera, and a not only golden but also wise cockerel is the title hero. The story is about a dim- Czar, about a queen of another kingdom who outsmarts the Czar, and the cockerel who was a gift from the astrologer to the Czar, who helps outsmart them all.
This year Guerlain chooses to re-release Le Coque d’Or, but not for mere mortals; it retails at the astronomical price of 17K €! Only for Czars and Queens indeed.
I wouldn’t even be writing about this if it wasn’t for the blogger ‘Monsieur Guerlain’ who to my luck is not only Danish, but offered to come along with his box of re-created vintage Guerlains to give me my own special guided tour through the lot. He was even incredibly generous to share some precious drops of the ones I had proclaimed to be favourites while sniffing for me to investigate further.
It is this version, and not the 17K one that I am writing about, since apparently that one has been tweaked a bit to comply to IFRA standards. *
If you like old books, and have always been fascinated by libraries and antiquarians, you’ll instantly recognise the smell of old bound leather books which opens Le Coque d’Or. Perhaps the old astrologer comes in with Pushkin’s old book to read the poem. The mix of leather, old paper and maybe even the glue and ink, when in fact I think it’s this incredible bergamot (which can no longer be used), aldehydes, dusty orris and a beautiful oak moss which give off this impression. Like the astrologer and his golden cockerel, the iris and moss is there with us from beginning to the end, and takes us through the tale of Le Coque d’Or at a smooth and calm speed.
When the page turns, the fragrance goes more fiery, pepper and especially carnation notes are very recognisable, and it goes from this short flammable outburst to a calm floral beauty, covered in a matte powdery veil. The jasmine is noticeable and given a hint of civet, but between jasmine and carnation I get an impression of a chrysanthemum wreath, with its sombre and introvert aroma.
Alls well that ends …with a light dust of vanilla, some gritty musk, resins and yes that even softer orris and moss at the end. I love how the fragrance has that dry powdery feel and still manages to be so alive on the skin.It’s an incredibly harmonious composition, with an overall matte finish in mauve and moss. A classic and flawless piece from a master.
Let’s hope for a fairy tale ending; do you remember when the ‘Precieux Nectar’ was first released in some golden fountain at an unobtainable price, and later re-released in a bee-bottle as a part of les Parisienne? I hope for this event to happen again in the case of Le Coque d’Or. Is it not after all the cockerel and the astrologer who have the last say in the story?
* Not a single one of the tested fragrances gave me anything remotely close to a rash.
The reissue of Le Coque d’Or coinsides with the release of the Un Soir à l’Opéra makeup collection for Christmas 2014 which has a Russian opera and ballet theme. The powder is housed in a bottle similar to the original perfume bottle.