The volume of the output from the house of GUERLAIN is staggering. Last year they launched 15 fragrances and for 2017 they have launched 11 so far, which includes their blockbuster new signature fragrance Mon Guerlain. It’s easy to see why they are launching so many scents – not only do they wish to expand and make more of a name for themselves, but GUERLAIN have also amassed quite the collection of collections, each of which cries out for regular new addition. Where would we be without a new Aqua Allegoria or L’Art et Matiere fragrance each year? And what would La Petite Robe Noire do if she didn’t have a new dress for the season? Whilst not every single one of these fragrances can be a GUERLAIN masterpiece, some do strike gold, which brings me nicely on to today’s subject – something new created by GUERLAIN perfumer Delphine Jelk under the creative direction of GUERLAIN chief nose, Thierry Wasser.
For their latest fragrance, Lui, GUERLAIN are taking cues from the past. The name and bottle may look familiar to you and that’s because they pay homage to a GUERLAIN classic (1929’s Liù) with the feminine name and iconic tea caddy bottle of the original subverted into something more modern. Lui is billed as a fragrance that is “not entirely feminine, nor truly masculine”. GUERLAIN call it “the perfume for a new gender order” and describes this new unisex scent as having an “ambiguous fragrance trail” that is “based on benzoin”. Let’s be real, the idea of unisex perfumery is nothing knew, nor is it particularly unusual in this day and age, especially since the rise of niche has really blown the doors open on the idea that a perfume can be worn by whomever fancies it. But heck, it may not be a new idea but I’m always here to embrace the lack of gendering in a perfume. So let’s put Lui to the sniff test.
Benzoin, Clove, Pear, Carnation, Vanilla and White Musk.
How Does it Smell?
I’d say that Lui smells largely the way one would expect it to from the description. The initial impression is of clove in all its warm, eugenol glory. This obviously evokes the idea of carnation, but the treatment here is much sweeter than the flower itself, with the balance shifted away from oil and spice towards something softer and more cuddly. Lui is no angular, androgynous beauty – no Bowie, Grace Jones or Annie Lennox – instead it’s a plush velvet fabric of a scent, all soft, supple and cosy as can be.
Texture plays a big part in the composition, largely due to the star material: benzoin. Now, benzoin is a great material. Extracted from the styrax tree, this resin has a sweet, cosy and comforting aroma that is similar to vanilla but has a soft, fluffy texture almost like candy floss. It’s a staple ingredient within amber accords and often finds it way into gourmand perfumes, due in part to its similarity to the aforementioned vanilla. It’s an amplifier and a filler material that gives a fragrance glorious softness. In Lui, the overdose of benzoin pieces everything together, working as the cement that locks the bricks of carnation and vanilla together as a solid structure.
The dry down sees the warm spice of clove and carnation drift off to sleep, allowing the reign of vanilla to take hold. Well, ‘reign’ might not be the right word and whilst GUERLAIN knows how to do vanilla very well (Shalimar, anyone?), the vanilla in Lui is much softer and more subtle than the house’s standard. As it settles, Lui becomes a light, airy fragrance built on benzoin, vanilla and musk. It is a soft and subtle fragrance throughout, actually, and I’d say it is one that intimately clings to the skin, especially in the base when its attractive warmth invites others in closer for a sniff. Cheeky.
Lui is really lovely. Yes it’s also really straightforward and one could argue that it hardly challenges, but sometimes the simplest of tunes are the prettiest. Each of Lui’s facets mirrors another, creating a sense of olfactory tessellation where the fragrance’s matching nuances are linked together to create something different altogether. The spice of carnation/clove is clicked into place next to the spice facet of vanilla, which in turn fixes next to the sweet facet of benzoin. The composition feels seamless and whilst the scent itself is linear, one couldn’t call it simple. Is Lui very GUERLAIN? Not really. Is it very good? Absolutely. Do check it out.
Lui is available in 50ml Eau de Parfum for £145.
Sample, notes and quotes via Guerlain. Images are my own.