The fragrance whisperer

January 20th, 2012
By

Nadine Kam photos
A collection of Guerlain fragrances, fronted by La Petite Robe Noire, Little Black Dress, and La Petite Robe Noire No. 2, $150 each.

Marie Line Patry, national fragrance beauty director for Guerlain is often referred to as the “fragrance guru” or “fragrance whisperer,” and she’s showing her uncanny ability to match individuals and fragrances through 6 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 21 at Neiman Marcus.

In an interview with her this morning, she said she touches and smells individuals’ skin, as well as talks to them about their preferences to come up with a match. She touched my skin—which I feel is dry—but she said is not so dry, before coming up with a match for me, Rose Barbare, with the soft, modern and feminine scent of Turkish rose and honey notes.

I’m not much of a perfume person, but I loved it right away because it was so delicate and subtle, and Patry said perfume should be a soft and beautiful individual signature, leaving what she calls sillage, or a trace in your wake.

“You don’t let fragrance announce you. You should only smell it when you move close to a person. It should be something inviting.”

That said, I was a little confused when she did come up with the match.

“But you didn’t smell me,” I said.

“I smell you.”

“That’s scary. What do I smell like?

Guerlain National Fragrance Beauty Director Marie Line Patry with her traveling trunk and arsenal of fragrances.

She said my skin is musky, so she aimed for balance with a sweeter fragrance. Such is the power of her nose. We were sitting about a foot-and-a-half apart.

She said she learned of her gift early, when, as a girl, she said, “I woke up the whole house because I smelled something like fire.”

The house wasn’t on fire, and no one else detected it, but she said it turned out to be “really small. There was something in the dishwasher, a plastic cover brushing against an element.”

She grew up continuing to train her nose and says her favorite scents are white musk and Guerlain roses. She worked with Gucci before Guerlain sought her out seven years ago.

The august house started by Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain in 1828 and granted the title of supplier to Emperor Napoleon III in 1853, has created more than 300 fragrances. Patry said at least 100 are still in production including 1889′s Jicky created by Aimé Guerlain, the son of the founder, and Shalimar, created by grandson Jacques Guerlain in 1925 as a tribute to the love of emperor Shahjahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built in her memory.

Both Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy wore Mitsouko, which makes one wonder if this was part of their allure to John F. Kennedy. The perfume was created in 1919 by Mitsouko was created by Jacques Guerlain, who was inspired by the novel “La bataille,” a love story involving the wife of Japanese Admiral Togo and a British officer. During the war between Russia and Japan in 1905, both men go to war and Mitsouko waits for its outcome to discover which of the two men will come back to her. At any rate, I tried it, and though not for me, it’s very exotic, with bergamot, peach, jasmine, may rose, spices (cinnamon), oak moss, vetiver and wood.

Patry said that Guerlain perfumes are vertical, with the different fragrance notes dancing on the skin subtly changing throughout the day, like music. She generally makes four or five suggestions per person for building a fragrance wardrobe encompassing their lifestyle, from casual days to sophisticated evenings.

Although most of the perfumes in Patry’s traveling chest are about $250, she also brought a handful of $22,000 to $33,000 limited-edition perfumes in Baccarat flacons.

After Patry leaves town, you’ll just have to sniff out your best perfume the old-fashioned way, one spritz at a time. You can also seek help from Daisy Witherwax at the Guerlain counter.

By the end of the morning, I had tried on five other perfumes on my own, all so delicate that they didn’t clash or give that headache that often comes with scent overload.

Some fragrances are offered in crystal bottles by Baccarat. This bottle is adorned with Guerlain’s signature raised bee design, recalling Guerlain’s past as royal perfumer for the French imperial family. The motif recalled the royal coat of arms.

Guerlain’s lengthy perfume lineage begins with Jicky, created in 1889 by Aimé Guerlain. Also among the house’s famous fragrances is Shalimar, created in 1925.

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One Response to “The fragrance whisperer”

  1. Steven:

    I love a really nice fragrance, although I sometimes think there are too many perfumes and aftershaves these days. Too much choice becomes confusing.


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