Fresh, Fresher, Vintage – Guerlain Heliotrope Blanc 000 (1881)

Today I am finally ready to move on to the Guerlain vintage Heliotrope Blanc.

Upon receiving this perfume, once again I had no idea what to expect, and unlike the sample of Œillet which I knew would at least not have turned, here I had no idea, but consoled myself that even if the juice was ruined, probably the bottle alone was at least worth the amount I paid.7be936fcbf7a04f65fbf10d90d09e713

Despite its vintage, Heliotrope Blanc arrived and smelled fresh as the proverbial daisy[1]. In fact you could probably pour it into an Aqua Allegoria bottle and no one would know it was a fragrance over 60 years old (at least) and first released in 1881[2]. I am not sure how this is even possible, and how would it have smelled when new, if it’s this fresh now? In fact considering the age and that most synthetic molecules were not yet discovered by the time of its creation, it has been mighty difficult to come up with a proper description. And more than once did I wish I had Thierry Wasser on speed dial.

Spraying Heliotrope Blanc something instantly tickles my nose like little yellow sparkles, but mellower than a pure lemony feel, it feels like sniffing bubbles from a champagne coupe. I smell a soft bergamot and there’s that thing between hesperidic and medicinal, and somehow so much space between the notes, the top virtually springs off the skin and does all its sparkle on top on what can already be detected underneath as a slight powdery and a bit sweet undergrowth. There’s no sign of heavy woods or mosses and no sticky deepness as one might expect from such an old perfume, just pure fresh sun-kissed spring. There’s a sense of distant flowers, and perhaps some petit grain to keep the zesty feel. The powder here is dry like talc, and it rises up in puffs through the sparkle. Sometimes I detect an elusive whiff of lilac, which ties in nicely with making this a white heliotrope as opposed to a blue/ purple one[3]. Is it a bit of vetiver which adds to the green and fresh feel of this fragrance, and again balances sweet and fresh, dry and dewy moist in the most charmingly innocent way?

So much space and sparkle, how is that possible? The first association aldehydes of some sort. But here’s a problem; although aldehydes for medicinal purposes were discovered in 1859, for perfume they were not used until early 1900. Of course my bottle being from after 1900* could have had alterations done to the formula, but perhaps it’s the special no longer used softer bergamot and linalool with its floral, sweet and petit-grain scent in play (as it was possible to obtain naturally at this time). The fact that I’m reminded of good old-fashioned soap enhances this assumption, as linalool has been used in soap products in forever. Anyone who is familiar with heliotrope fragrances will know the typical odor profile; powder, fluffy, sweet, almondy, cherry pie. And yet, here it’s so much more discreet, almost as if the perfumer, Aimé Guerlain, was scared to overuse this new compound, or perhaps the expression he wished was another.DSC03148 It’s innocent and airy and the citruses have been used to even out the sweetness of the heliotrope to make this more about the sun than about the flower.

Deceptively fresh and happy is Heliotrope Blanc, I happily wear it perhaps more frequent than any of my other vintages. I wouldn’t call this an unforgettable gem and a crime to have been left out of production, but it’s a window to another time in a way that I haven’t encountered with other vintages. I think most people associate vintage fragrances to be of that heavy mossy nature or perhaps with light colognes, simplistic and their citrus notes off long before your grandmother was born. Heliotrope Blanc 000 shows another side of the story: all the freshness of a perfect cologne yet powdery and easy on the nose with a real bouquet and longevity. And not least; not as much a melancholic sigh from time long past, as a happy spring greeting.

 

Ending on another old spring greeting;

Welcome Rain on a Springnight by Tu Fu (712-768)

The good rain knows its season,
When spring arrives, it brings life.
It follows the wind secretly into the night,
And moistens all things softly, without sound.
On the country road, the clouds are all black,
On a riverboat, a single fire bright.
At dawn one sees this place now red and wet,
The flowers are heavy in the brocade city.

 

[1] I was lucky to have a fragrant friend who owns an even older bottle of HB000 and she could verify that it was indeed the real thing.

[2] My bottle is guestimated from the 1930s/40s. Heliotropin was a molecule which had only just been discovered, and sparked a sudden fashion for perfume houses to launch heliotrope fragrances.

[3] Thanks to A perfume blog’s Blacknall for clarifying this

* The cat seemed to think there was no animalic musk present.

** I couldn’t find credits for the old print. The photos are mine.

16 thoughts on “Fresh, Fresher, Vintage – Guerlain Heliotrope Blanc 000 (1881)

  1. Buying vintage is like playing roulette – i’m so glad this was such a lucky win for you.

    It sounds perfect and a heliotrope more to my taste than the usual almondy, fluffy, cherry pie you mention. I hope you wear it lots this spring. Lovely poem.

    • Thank you Tara, yes I’m sure it would be a lot more to you taste. And it was a lucky win, normally I’m a lot more sensible when it comes to vintages, but I couldn’t resist trying.

  2. Asali, you are fueling, on a bucket load!! What a beautiful bottle and it sounds like a delightful fragrance. I’m so happy for you to have won this unspoiled gem. As ever, your review was so lovely. So please tell us… what other treasures are you going to introduce to us? 😉

    • So sorry magpie, I didn’t mean to fuel the vintage fire, I should think more before I leave shine things out for a magpie :-). I think the two rarest have now been uncovered (in HB and Iris Gris), but I am glad that you enjoy my little vintage escapades. When I write about vintage fragrances a part of me can’t help but wonder who cares, but you know how it is with inspiration, it’s not really a thing to control. At some point I do want to get samples of the new Patou re-re-releases and compare them with my vintage ones. There are some stunning good ones, especially Vacances is really quite an unrivalled lilac perfume.

      • You know what magpies are like… 😉 I would love to read about your old-new comparisons. It will be fascinating.

        • Hehe, I do. And thanks, I’ll do my best to find samples then 🙂

  3. What a terrific find! Worth it for the bottle alone as you say, and the fact that the juice is in such nick is a real boon. Echoing what Tara says, really, namely that I like the sound of a more sprightly, sparkly heliotrope rather than its normal almond incarnation.

    • Yes, although even if I really like my bottles, and this one is stunning in its simple antiqueness, I would never pay a high price for a bottle alone, so I was a bit concerned I must say, and glad it turned out well. I should say that the bottle has been with me for quite a while, but truly has been difficult to capture in words. And I do think both you and Tara might be able to wear this…

  4. Such an incredibly beautiful bottle! I don’t blame you for pulling the trigger. I’m so glad that the fragrance worked out for you as well!

    • Thank you Sun Mi, and yes the bottle is beautiful.

  5. Asali, the way you photographed your bottle is gorgeous and fitting of a vintage fragrance. And in terms of your description, this sounds like quite the effervescent heliotrope perfume, which is rather unique in terms of how the note often appears in perfumes these days (i.e., not usually so sprightly).

    Loved the poem, too! Enjoy your treasure.

    • It brings me back to my thought, that even if there was a lot of so called soliflores created around that time (before 1900), they would most probably have been quite different both from each other and from what we expect from a soliflore today.
      The poem is lovely isn’t it? You should look them up, there are several really beautiful ones, and the are all a bit like a meditation and thanks for the photo appreciation 🙂

  6. I only now found the time to read this. 🙂 You know, with your luck with vintage finds, you might try playing the lottery as well. 😉
    And you are completely right. That’s exactly what I think when I think of vintages – dark, mossy and heavy.

    • Haha, well I’ve had the Heliotrope for quite a while- and I notice it’s getting a lot harder to come by vintage bargains. I just try and stick to my old recipe, it has to be cheap so you won’t feel cheated if it’s ruined or not your thing AT ALL, and not to go with the wave of the price increase. Although I suppose it’s only natural give the massive price increase on niche perfumes too. It used to be, if you just waited long enough for a certain vintage fragrance, it would eventually show up at the right price, but I’m afraid those day are probably gone now.
      Dark, mossy and heavy I think is really just a part of vintage perfumes.

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