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.
Despite its vintage, Heliotrope Blanc arrived and smelled fresh as the proverbial daisy. 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. 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. 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. 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.
 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.
 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.
* The cat seemed to think there was no animalic musk present.
** I couldn’t find credits for the old print. The photos are mine.