Thursday, December 30, 2010

Questions about ancient Guerlain: New Mown Hay & Vetiver

I'd wanted to photograph the rare Guerlain New Mown Hay label and blow it up for you all to see. But thanks to a poor packing job, now it's just a smeary mess of silvery black paint. At least one bottle arrived intact. Ironically the seller didn't take any special precautions at all with the Vetiver bottle; hence it's the one that didn't leak.

These bottles are much older than 1959, which is supposedly the first year Guerlain released their Vetiver scent. Guerlain has been around a long time so maybe there are some lesser known scents floating around. But are these two bottles examples of these rare old Guerlains, or are they just a couple of old fakes? Mostly they're a curiosity to me for the juice inside. Since they didn't cost too much, I don't really care a whole lot about the provenance. But I am curious, of course! The bottles do look very similar to other old Guerlain bottles like this one:

 Rita, a rare 1900 Guerlain first blogged by Octavian at 1000fragrances.

The Guerlain bottles holding Vetiver and New Mown Hay are shown below as they were when the seller photographed them. It's hard to tell but they are squatty and compact at only 4" tall. Also the bottles are short-necked and clearly made of molded glass, not polished crystal like the 1930s Kadine bottle shown sitting between them.

Are these perfumes genuine Guerlain?? New Mown Hay is often referred to as a singular note but in the 19th and early 20th century New Mown Hay scents were a genre unto themselves. Based on a stereotypical formula almost every perfumer offered their own version of new mown hay. Similar to soliflore scents are built around the idea of a single flower, although like those the formula likely contains a long list of ingredients. Today we see many such single note scents: Egyptian musk, fig, and thousands of others. See Demeter, Marc Jacobs and Jo Malone for examples of modern examples marketed as single notes or around the idea of scent layering.

Somehow I don't think Guerlain would have had a similar strategy of bottling single notes for their clients 100 years ago. Did they send bottles of individual notes to dispensaries where pharmacist/perfumers made different Guerlain perfumes by mixing primary essences? More likely both of these were sold commercially as perfumes but perhaps early examples composed by Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain when the scents were custom made to order. Grace of Cleopatra's Boudoir reports that Guerlain did have a version of New Mown Hay but as far as I can tell no one has a date for NMHay. This bottle may well be an example of it.

Of scent, these are simple compositions and not nearly as complex as the women who would have worn them...
image: Sarah Bernhardt

image: shorpy archives, anonymous 1900 portrait, semi-risque

Guerlain's New Mown Hay smells almost exactly like almond paste to me. Mildly nutty and very sweet, it wears down to a light and powdery vanilla. It lasts about 4 hours on my skin, maybe a bit longer. Coumarin is the main note associated with new mown hay scent. It is the principle scent component found in sweet grass and sweet clover. Coumarou literally means tonka bean in French. Tonka bean is also loaded with coumarin which gives it that sweet vanilla-like odor.

Guerlain's ancient Vetiver is dryly smokey with oak-to-cedar wood and whiskey notes. It's sometimes hard to remember that vetiver is a grass- here it smells like the best, most aromatic juniper berries and wood, lightly charred and as smooth as velvet.

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.


ScentScelf said...

I was fascinated when I learned about the past vogue for hay scents, completely by accident when I was trying to dig up more about hay scent in general--hay being a favorite note of mine. I did end up purchasing a fragrance simply called "Hayloft" and which, as I put on a dab now, strikes me out of the bottle as L'Heure Bleu with a vague hint of grass.

And which I now see you reviewed yourself. :)

What a cool trio you found.

Amelia said...

Yes, Hayloft- thank you for bringing it up! Hayloft is actually a great representation of that hay note. It smells right along the lines of Guerlain's version of NMH and I think it's a real score. Wear it in good health and have a healthy Happy 2011, ScentScelf, with lots more great vintage perfume finds!

Blog Author said...

Congratulations, these are lovely finds! And I'm certain both are legitimate.
The "Flacon Carré" was used on and off from the 1870's up until the late 1950s / early 60s, which may account for your bottle of Vetiver. Anything in this bottle produced after 1914 would bear the address "Champs Elysées" on the label (prior would obviously be at "Rue de la Paix").
New Mown Hay is particularly exciting as it is seldom ever referenced, but I too have struggled to find a date. Im sure you will treasure these bottles! Sadly, the labels do spoil easily. I too lost the beautiful gold patina from my Carré flacon of Pois de Senteur when it leaked badly in transit.

Amelia said...

Dimitri: Thank you for confirming and clarifying the situation. The address on the Vetiver is "Champs Elysées". The details on the New Mown Hay are all lost. I've often consulted your blog for reference - and feel delighted you would comment!