There are certain things that you know will remain classics. Not necessarily trendy, not cutting edge, but they have that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about them that becomes memorable.
A number of years ago, I was sampling fragrances and was seeking something apart from those I had at the time, all of which were common to the period but never really varied for me from day to day. I happened upon Guerlain, and though I’d seen Heritage before, I’d always lumped it into the same class as Vetiver and Habit Rouge, scents I didn’t appreciate as much then as now. I gave it a try.
This was different! It was a pleasant fragrance from first note all the way through to the end for me, unlike my other experiences. It was masculine, it was well-composed, and in short, it was tasteful and classic. Once it had the chance to open on my skin, it had a downright warm and spicy opening with enough citrus to tame it and keep it controlled. The end dry-down was a wonderful soft leathery scent that lingered through the rest of the day. With that background in mind, I felt it important to share some thoughts:
Guerlain Heritage (1992): The first words you should know are these: Jean-Paul Guerlain. Love or loathe him, he’s earned a place in creating memorable fragrances whether or not the marketing part of the organization (now a unit of LVMH) has performed to snuff. While the rest of the industry was busy creating a glut of light citrus and aquatic fragrances, Guerlain decided to go his own way with this fragrance by bucking that trend entirely. I surmise that his calculated choice was correct since he didn’t necessarily abandon the Guerlain audience by simply copying that trend.
And where many perfumers during that period went for minimalism, again Jean-Paul defied that trend: A lot is going on here, some of which you’ll never notice but for their enhancing effect, other elements you’ll define quickly. Heritage’s opening notes include bergamot, orange, aldehydes, green accords, lavender, lemon, petit grain, violet, clary sage and nutmeg. One criticism of the opening is that it can seem overwhelming and a bit much to absorb at once. The trick with this is to not focus on the opening, nor to apply too liberally. Once the sheer opening volume dissipates, the scent transforms after a few minutes and begins to feel much calmer. It slowly moves into the heart notes of spices — coriander and pepper key among them — combined with floral scents and a hint of woodiness. Orris root, balsam fir, along with rose, jasmine, carnation, honeysuckle, cyclamen, geranium and lily-of-the-valley are nicely rounded out with patchouli. The sheer amount of florals would lead one to believe this is simply a men’s floral…or perhaps a reformulated women’s scent. Surprise! That isn’t what you detect, since the balance of spices, wood, and patchouli seem to blend seamlessly. The base notes which will linger include cedar, vetiver, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, sandalwood and vanilla.
Did I mention there was a lot happening here?
It’s virtually impossible to determine every single element of this fragrance in the same way that you may not hear the single missed note in a symphony. The symphony itself will seem to have been played flawlessly, and in the case of Heritage, it’s a woody/spicy/chypre-like set of strings and chords being engaged at just the right time. Execution is magnificent!
All of that said, this is not a broad appeal for all seasons and tastes. It’s something that needs to be experienced more on skin than paper, and needs to be given time to warm to the right outcome. My wife, for instance, cannot withstand the first 5 or so minutes of the application as cold, the opening notes still somewhat a shock. Return several minutes on, however, and she feels much different to the experience. It’s analogous to first meeting someone new and not knowing what to expect, then finding it very easy to drop your guard after several minutes of conversation.
Heritage can be a very heavy experience. Longevity is phenomenal — if this is the eau de toilette version, I’d shudder to think of an eau de parfum concentration being almost cloying and suffocating. In the EDT, it’s a rarity in that its staying power is all-day. Sillage is noticeable, not necessarily in a bad way, especially after the dry-down and once the top note sharpness has dissipated. To that point, as much as my wife dislikes the first 5 minutes of the fragrance, she absolutely loves the mellowed down dry-down as it warms and transforms.
My other forewarning is that this is not a fragrance that will be easily appreciated or understood by anyone younger than say 40. It’s distinguished, refined, and appeals to a more mature audience. Don’t gift it to a grandson or nephew and expect them to enjoy or much less understand the scent.
Verdict & Rating: 4.5/5. Highly recommended. Again, please note the caveats on audience. This is a powerhouse fragrance, best for three season (fall/winter/spring) wear, appropriate enough for the office but best for evenings.
Bottom-line: This is a fragrance that exudes a certain air of sophistication about the wearer, and tends to be a perennial mainstay in the wardrobe of many a fragrance aficionado. You will either fall in love with it or you’ll feel very offput by it, as it offers no middle-ground. Simply put, it’s a classic. It wasn’t created to fit the trend-du-jour, it’s not the latest fashion. It’s the comfortable but sophisticated dress loafer of the fragrance world for those who want that. And isn’t that what a classic should be?