Custom naming rights wrapped up in the patina of exclusivity. That’s one way of looking at Guerlain‘s attempt to distinguish Mon Exclusif from the flood of new releases put out each year, not only by other brands but also from the ten to twenty fragrances that it itself issues. Another way of viewing it, though, is as an asinine, childish gimmick that seeks to hide the utterly generic, insipid, and commercial nature of its scent behind the illusion of luxury and exclusivity, with the added benefit of higher prices to boot. This is a fragrance that I think is driven by cynical marketing and market trends rather than the desire to create a original, compelling creation that stands out on an olfactory basis. [Update 1/26/17 — This fragrance has been renamed as Mon Guerlain. It is the exact same formulation and scent as before. Guerlain pulled “Mon Exclusif,” renamed it, removed the option of personalized stickers discussed below, and selected Angelina Jolie as the fragrance’s celebrity face. In essence, it chose a different form of marketing than the stickers it originally had to distinguish this scent. But the perfume itself remains unchanged, so the review on the substance of the scent itself stands. Mon Guerlain will launch in February 2017. ]
Mon Exclusif is an eau de parfum that was released last year and whose bottle is a modern reinterpretation of Guerlain’s famous Coque d’Or. The novelty gimmick is that, “for the first time,” you can give your fragrance the name of your choosing, a name which you can then spell it out on your bottle by applying big, fat, metallic stickers or decals. An 8-year old would be thrilled. I simply rolled my eyes. Repeatedly.
On its website, Guerlain describes Mon Exclusif as an “oriental fougère” that is an “astounding feat of its kind,” and says:
For the first time, Guerlain is offering you the freedom to name your new exclusive feminine fragrance. Because your relationship with your fragrance is very intimate, it’s up to you to name this partner by your side…
This surprising Eau de Parfum is an astounding feat of its kind: caressing oriental notes of sandalwood and toffee contrast with a fresh fougère accord embodied by an exceptional lavender.
Guerlain reinterprets the illustrious Coque d’Or bottle. Created in 1937, it was loosely inspired by men’s bow ties for chic occasions. Today, it is a bow with a twist, boldly worn by a woman.
Customise your bottle with the name that you have chosen using the metallic letters provided.
The accompanying list of notes is:
Mandarin, Bergamot, Sugared almond, Lavender, Solar notes, Iris, White musks, Sandalwood, and a Toffee accord [which Fragrantica says consists of salted caramel, vanilla, and coumarin].
The “astounding feat of its kind” opens on my skin with lemon cotton candy and sugared almonds, sprinkled with the smallest pinch of sweetened lavender, then covered with a veil of clean, vanillic white musk and placed on a bed of sweetness. The latter smells of soft white woods that are clean and given a sepia tint with the merest wash of toffee. After a few minutes, a red fruitiness appears, smelling like the jammy berries that Guerlain puts in the vast majority of its fragrances these days. Yet, as a whole, Mon Exclusif is a very gauzy bouquet, light, soft, and delicate in both body and feel. Despite its many and varied types of sugariness, the gauziness in the opening keeps the notes from feeling gooey or syrupy. One doesn’t feel flattened under a bushel of candied heaviness, at least not initially. The bouquet in the first 20-30 minutes is too gossamer thin for that. If anything, Mon Exclusif opens as an extremely citrusy, fresh, bright, and clean take on candy and the gourmand genre.
Mon Exclusif shifts rather quickly. The citrus, white musks, and sugar rapidly grow in strength. The almond note is largely swallowed up, feeling more abstract and nebulous than it did at the start. The lavender also grows sheerer; wisps of it weave around the background, but it feels insubstantial and elusive. If a lavender lover was anticipating a gourmand version of Jicky, they might be disappointed by speed with which the note is subsumed within the increasingly lemony, toffee’d ball of sugared, musk plushness. The lavender is really a negligible part of the scent. In fact, I don’t think Mon Exclusif is a fougère at all, not the classical sort nor the oriental variety that Guerlain stated on its website. To me, it’s a gourmand fragrance, period, albeit one that periodically dips its toe into the musk and fruity-floral sub-genres at different stages in its development. And none of it resembles Jicky on my skin.
Instead, the opening phase reminded me of a gauzy, cotton candy variation on two fragrances from other brands: Narciso Rodriguez‘s For Her musk fragrances combined with a good heaping dose of Lancome‘s La Vie est Belle. The similarities appear roughly 20 to 30 minutes into Mon Exclusif’s development when the red berries really kick in, adding a fruitchouli-style jamminess to the scent. It’s followed by a indeterminate floralcy that smells rosy rather than anything resembling actual iris. Like ribbons, the two accords wrap around the candied bouquet, merging into the sugared lemon fluff, the toffee, and the plush clean musk. By the end of the first hour, the syrupy red berries become so prominent that they actually vie with the sugared lemon and musk for supremacy as the lead note.
By the 90-minute mark, the fruity accord wins completely. The result is a raspberry lollipop laced with lemon cotton candy, sweetened clean musk, and something nebulously floral, all atop on an equally sweetened (and synthetic) woody base. There is no lavender, no almond, no iris, no real toffee, and no discernible, clearly delineated, solid sandalwood, either. All of it feels like a candied variation of the blockbuster seller, La Vie est Belle. That’s really Mon Exclusif’s fundamental essence on my skin.
Nothing happens to change that focus or main bouquet, either, no dramatic twists or turns. This is a fragrance that, on my skin, is driven primarily by four main chords: 1) lemony cotton candy; 2) fruitchouli-floral, berried jamminess; 3) musk that is simultaneously sweet, clean, fresh, and plush; and 4) sugary vanilla that gradually takes on a caramel nuance later on as well. In the hours that follow, all that really happens are fluctuations to the strength, nuances, or order of these four accords. They take turns shining in the spotlight, almost like a relay race where one element dominates before handing the baton over to the next.
For example, at the start of the 3rd hour, Mon Exclusif turns significantly sweeter. The sugary notes take the lead, followed by the jammy raspberry, their sweetness subtly amplified by the vanilla which has now awakened in the base. The white musk trails at the back of the pack, but it has taken on a rather sharp quality for my tastes. A switch occurs about 4.25 hours in. The jammy red fruits become minor, muffled wisps in the background; the cotton candy at the head of the pack no longer smells of lemon but of vanilla infused with occasional whiffs of caramel; and all traces of woodiness or floralcy have disappeared. For the most part, Mon Exclusif is now primarily a vanilla candy puff enveloped in soft musk (that, once again, makes me think of Narciso Rodriguez’s For Her aesthetic).
Yet, the relay race means that this is a scent that doesn’t hew to one set path; every time I thought an accord had finally died out — like the lemon cotton candy, the toffee/caramel, or the fruity-floral, raspberry jamminess — it would eventually dance back on scene, sometimes alone, sometimes in tandem. They splash onto the powerful, sugared vanilla that is Mon Exclusif’s primary focus, but they never take over. Throughout this time, the only constant is the clean, equally sweetened musk that ties everything together. Eventually, that’s all that’s left, and Mon Exclusif dies away as a wisp of sugary, clean sweetness.
Mon Exclusif had good longevity, average sillage, and soft projection. I typically used several generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, and the scent usually opened with 3 inches of projection and roughly 3-4 inches of sillage. The latter grew after 20 minutes, but it never extended beyond 6 inches at most. Mon Exclusif became a skin scent roughly 5.25 hours into its development, though it was easy to detect up close without major effort for a while to come. In total, the fragrance typically lasted between 10 and 10.5 hours in my various tests.
None of it was my personal cup of tea. One of my many issues with Mon Exclusif is how generic it smells and how cynical it feels. On my skin, its character could be defined primarily in terms of other fragrances. It’s not just a vanilla candied twist on La Vie Est Belle mixed with Narciso Rodriguez’ For Her. It’s also a remixed mishmash of other Guerlains: the gooey raspberry of La Petite Robe Noire (and so many others); the caramel praline of L’Homme Idéal (and so many others); the sugared almonds of the now discontinued, vanilla-heavy Shanghai; the abstract fruity-floral, pink gourmandise of Guerlain’s Chypre Fatal (a ludicrously misnamed scent if ever I saw one); and the citrusy freshness of so many scents that I couldn’t even begin to list them. It’s as though the popular elements of a whole slew of fragrances — from Guerlain and elsewhere — had all been tossed into one bottle pursuant to a checklist.
It’s Guerlain by the numbers, by rote. No wonder the company managed to release 20 fragrances last year. (As the blogger, Monsieur Guerlain, noted in a 2015, year-end post on Facebook: “that’s more than one every three weeks.”) Here, I’ll admit that the scent is generically pretty at first in a commercial way, but none of it is “an astounding feat of its kind.” (Really?! Claiming that with a straight face takes some guts.) For me, Mon Exclusif is so derivative that, in six months time, I doubt I’ll be able to remember anything about it other than: “various forms of cotton candy” and “stupid stickers.”
And, yes, the stickers get my goat. The naming issue feels like smoke and mirrors to distract from the generic nature of the composition under the guise of individuality and bespoke luxury. I find it to be a bald-faced, brazen marketing gimmick that also tries to justify a $180/€130 price tag for a scent that resembles more inexpensive fragrances. (At Sephora, a 50 ml bottle of La Vie est Belle eau de parfum costs roughly $86; a 50 ml bottle of For Her EDP is $97; and both can be found for even less on discount sites.) Look, lots of companies have put out their gourmand interpretations of For Her or La Vie est Belle. Others have cannibalized their own popular elements to use in a remix of their greatest hits. To my memory, none of them have used cheap stickers as a central part of the whole charade of uniqueness and luxury, particularly not stickers that I could buy in an arts-and-craft store for $3 or less.
It’s almost galling and insulting how stupid the whole thing is. Guerlain’s description that I quoted above condescendingly tells me that they are “offering” me the “freedom” to name the fragrance whatever I want (as if I couldn’t do that already in my head), and then they give me a bunch of stickers. For this privilege, I get to pay $100 more than the retail cost of some of the fragrances they seek to ape. I can’t get the thought of “My Little Pony” and “Hello Kitty” out of my head. But I’m not 8 years old, and I don’t want to put a bunch of stickers on my $180 bottle of perfume.
Without them, though, what’s left, really? A derivative ball of fluff. The sole reason it’s supposed to stand out is because, “for the first time” (my emphasis), you can give your bottle a name. That’s its one claim to originality, in my opinion, and it’s merely smoke and mirrors, a gimmick whose juvenile aspect is better suited to a child’s plastic toy than to an adult’s “luxury” purchase.
In fairness, I suppose stickers were the only way to achieve a personalised outcome for a mass-market perfume that is being sold by the thousands, but I wish they didn’t look so bad. The blog, Sorcery of Scent, has a photo of their customized bottle, complete with the “gargantuan” letters and their “cheapness.”
The accompanying review is tactfully polite. I snorted up my coffee at the dry comment that “whoever suggested it is a modern, sweeter version of Jicky needs some significant rhinoplasty.” And, while Dimitri did call Mon Exclusif “pretty” at the end, the actual part of his description is mixed to ambivalent. For example, he writes, in part:
Mon Exclusif is sweet… tooth-achingly sweet. If you have an aversion to the candied purple buzz of Insolence or the fudge-dense chewiness of the L’Art et Matiere offerings, then Mon Exclusif will raise your glucose levels through the roof! Sweet mandarin and zesty bergamot meet the nose, followed by a familiar candied almond accord which one can find in both L’Homme Ideal and LPRN… this is wrapped in lavender sugar and nectar-like solar accords that I sense present perhaps in Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia. Bittersweet iris and clean white musk are combined with a burnt sugar accord, the sum of which act as a fondant poured generously over the whole composition. It is this sticky vanilla/toffee that lingers on skin and in the nose for many hours.
Like La Vie est Belle and For Her, many of the fragrances referenced in his description are extremely popular with lovers of mainstream perfumery, which may explain why Mon Exclusif receives overwhelmingly adoring praise on Fragrantica. There, comment after comment gushes about its gourmand sweetness, its vanilla (characterized by one person as a “sugar cookie”), its caramel, its “brightness,” its delicate floralcy, and its femininity. One poster, “AveParfum,” actually says flat-out that the scent is “a toothache in a bottle.” And, yet, she loves it. For her, Mon Exclusif opened with a “syrupy-sweet” cherry note before moving onto a long main stage of praline with some vanilla that was joined, later on, by a wisp of “ethereal” floralcy as well. For others, the sweetness wasn’t excessive, but “satisfying” or “high class.”
How you view Mon Exclusif is obviously going to depend on your baseline definition of sweetness, as well as the style of perfumery you prefer. Hardcore gourmand lovers clearly adore it, so if you’re one of them or if you love any of the fragrances mentioned here, then you should ignore me completely and get a sample. However, if you have issues with candied sugariness, fruity syrup, clean musks, or gourmands that skew more feminine rather than unisex, then I don’t think Mon Exclusif will be for you.
At the end of the day, Sorcery of Scent’s Dimitri summed up my feelings to a “T” when he said that Mon Exclusif was bound to be popular, but he would give his “left gonad to welcome a new mainstream chypre to the Guerlain portfolio… one devoid of a single sugar-dusted almond, nutty praline or saccharine pink berry.” Now that would be a novelty, indeed.