A garden lies at the heart of Guerlain‘s vintage Apres L’Ondee, a secret garden pulled straight out of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous 1910 children’s classic by the same name. It’s a magical place awakening after a long sleep, brought back to life in early Spring, reborn with tender efforts that make its once untamed nature a thing of the most civilized Edwardian beauty. It’s an exquisite portrait, even a heartbreakingly tender one, where fields of iris and violets sprout to spread their wings in the morning light, their petals glistening with dew and the last traces of Spring showers, their fragile bodies shooting up out of dark, loamy soil to bloom against rambling thickets of rose, sweet jasmine, and green walls covered with climbing vetiver and mossy greenness. The morning light is bright, fresh, and crystal clear, offset by gleaming rays of yellow citrus freshness and clean aldehydes, but a mist of sweet powder swirls through the air like pixie dust and tiny fairies.
The garden always changes. At times, the scent of vanilla meringues curls up next to violet fields blooming with emerald fronds of fresh anise next to cool streams of water. At others times, the violets mix with dew-laden iris, musky hawthorn, wet leaves, and black, loamy earth. Sometimes, lilies are at play, sometimes, it’s a host of other things. The light changes frequently in the garden, but, eventually, carnation always casts rays of spicy pink-redness that is later turned to the palest gold by sweet benzoin resins, almost as though the crisp, cool morning sun had traversed the sky over the course of day. All of it is beautiful and worth exploring further.
Apres L’Ondee (officially spelt with accents as “Après L’Ondée) is considered as one of the greats by experts who have tried it in its vintage form. In fact, Luca Turin called it “one of the twenty greatest fragrances of all time.” It’s not talked about much in the perfume community nowadays because Guerlain discontinued the parfum due to IFRA/EU and cost issues, leaving only an emasculated eau de toilette eunuch behind, but you just try to buy a vintage bottle on eBay and you’ll see the fierce competition. This is one of those truly exquisite fragrances that appeals to both men and women alike because of its immensely evocative, tender, and romantic nature. It’s as though Wordsworth, Debussy, and Monet joined forces to bottle their art in fragrance form.
I first encountered Apres L’Ondee in the 1980s in eau de toilette form, and I loved it instantly. In that concentration, in that era, the fragrance bore a strong genetic tie to my then-favourite Guerlain, L’Heure Bleue (in EDT and EDP form). Some people say that Apres L’Ondee essentially amounted to a flanker of (vintage) L’Heure Bleue, and I think that was quite true of the 1980s versions in their light(er) concentrations, but I don’t think it’s an accurate summation of Apres L’Ondee in extrait form and in its older years. That’s the really special one, but I despaired of ever finding enough samples to be able to do a proper, complete, and thorough review. Vintage Apres L’Ondee seems to be so beloved that people hate to sell it, in any concentration or from any year. Not the vintage eau de toilette or extrait. They rarely appear on eBay, almost as though no-one wanted to give up their precious perfume no matter what the price, and, on the rare occasions when they do, bottles are subject to intense bidding.
I thought I would never be able to revisit Apres L’Ondee, let alone have samples to do an actual review, but then I stumbled upon Adrian of the eBay store, JV&E Treasures or Vivien Treasures. I’d seen her wares numerous times over the past summer during my hunt for the oldest possible version of vintage Shalimar. Back then, she had something like 18 bottles, many of them in Marly boxes, but none of them were as old as what I sought. That said, she had an absolutely jaw-dropping collection of other parfums, from ancient Guerlains to famous vintage Chanel parfums, old Lanvins, legendary Patous, Nina Ricci fragrances that I’d never heard of in exquisite Lalique bottles, and so much more. What stayed with me, though, was actually not the incredibly rare, pristine, beautiful vintage bottles; it was the explanation on each listing that she was selling her beloved collection because she had to pay off medical bills. That’s the state of the health insurance situation in America today for so many people, and it constantly made me think of something that my old torts professor used to say in law school: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Three or four weeks ago, I stumbled across Adrian’s eBay store again. I saw a listing of Le Galion’s vintage Sortilege pure parfum from the 1950s (actually probably much earlier, like from the 1930s) in an exquisite bottle with gold leaf embossing and a scent that was far better, far more cognac-laden and ambered than the 1920s Chanel No. 5 which inspired it. I ended up buying on behalf of my mother, but what caught my personal attention were her listings for decants of vintage Apres L’Ondee in two different concentrations, the extrait and the eau de cologne. I bought a sample of the extrait, she kindly gifted me a sample of the vintage cologne, and that was that. I’ve gotten to known Adrian since then and she’s been nothing short of phenomenal, helping me with photos of her bottles and patiently answering my incessant questions about the precise date of her fragrances.
Unlike most eBay sellers, she actually bought the majority of these fragrances herself, the Guerlains decades ago directly from the company itself, so she can give a specific provenance. Some of them were parfums that, even then, were special, older bottles that had been released a decade or so before her purchase. On one trip to Paris, she bought so many expensive extraits that Guerlain gifted her with drams of Guerlain eau de colognes pulled directly from their urns in-store. Now, she’s forced to sell them all. It hurts my heart. (And yes, that is partially why I am going on at such length about her. The other reason is that she truly had amazing stuff in her store, even if many of them are now sold.)
Adrian actually had so many vintage bottles at one point that it was sometimes difficult for her to pinpoint the exact year she bought them with precision that my obsessive-compulsive nature requires, but she told me that her extrait dated from the 1960s and the eau de cologne from the 1980s, although she also has a few 1970s EDC bottles as well. However, upon looking at the photo that she shared with me of the base sticker on one of her extraits bottles, and using the Raiders of the Lost Scent sticker guide, it seems that the bottle actually dates from somewhere between 1950 to 1956:
This 1950s extrait will be one of the things that I’ll talk about today, along with a 1980s eau de cologne version of Apres L’Ondee. Afterwards, I’ll briefly go over bottle designs for various concentrations over the decades, but I have to repeat once again that all of this bottle, packaging, and dating business is not my field of expertise, so I’ll direct you to those who specialise in this area. At the very end, I’ll give you eBay links for you to use if you wish to look for the fragrance or sample it, briefly talk about possible modern alternatives, and provide you with Luca Turin‘s Five Star review.
One thing that I wanted to say before we begin is that’s unfair to equate the scent of different concentrations, let alone different concentrations from different decades, so you should try to take each scent description on its own to the extent possible. Since I don’t have multiple forms of either the extrait or cologne, it’s not like comparing apples to apples, because we won’t be tracing changes in the same concentration over the consecutive decades. And, for all vintage fragrances of any concentration and type, the chasm between the individual compositions grows even larger when you factor in other variables like concentration and evaporation of notes, the amplification of base accords over time, and how each bottle may have been maintained over the course of its life. Some of you may have worn Apres L’Ondee in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, but the balance of notes in a composition will inevitably change over 30 years due to these factors, so different bottles will end up smelling differently even apart from issues of skin chemistry. So, with that said, let’s proceed to Apres L’Ondee’s history, creation, notes, and scent.
APRES L’ONDEE HISTORY, BACKGROUND, CREATION AND NOTES:
Apres L’Ondee was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1906. Its name translates to “after the rains” or “after the spring showers,” and that was very much the scent that the fragrance was meant to replicate. As the fragrance historian, Grace Hummel, explains on her wonderfully detailed blog, Guerlain Perfumes (which is unaffiliated with the company), the specific inspiration for Apres L’Ondee “was the unique smell of a spring-time garden after a downpour, smell of wet leaves and flowers warmed by the sunshine.” She adds that he created the scent based on the formula for an earlier creation, Voilette de Madame, but it was a much more famous fragrance which followed six years after Apres L’Ondee with which it shares the closest connection in people’s minds: 1912’s L’Heure Bleue. The two fragrances not only share olfactory notes in common, but Jacques Guerlain was reportedly moved by his love for impressionist paintings in his approach to creating both fragrances, seeking to give them the same feel, airiness, and visuals, even if their subject matters differed.
According to the Guerlain Perfumes post, Apres L’Ondee’s original note list was:
Top notes: rosemary, hawthorn, bergamot, lavender,
Middle notes: jasmine, lily, orchid, orange blossom, violet, bouvardia
Base notes: orris and Tonkin musk
That may have been the very earliest note list, but it was later changed. Grace Hummel provides a second list that I’ll talk about it in a moment, and it is a closer match to the vintage extrait in later years. As most people point out, Apres L’Ondee subsequently had a citrus top note, carnation in its heart, and heliotrope that, in conjunction with the violets, orris, and tonka, created a link with L’Heure Bleue. In 1906, there were no such things as aldehydes in perfumery, but Jacques Guerlain cleverly mimicked the note through anise (and/or hawthorn). In addition, he loved leather, so he included at least some aspect of it (birch and/or styrax) in many of his creations. Finally, I’ve seen vetiver mentioned for Apres L’Ondee as well. I certainly experienced some in the 1950s extrait.
Another Guerlain expert and blogger, Monsieur Guerlain, elaborates further on the notes, the materials, and Jacques Guerlain’s goal for the scent. In his piece on Apres L’Ondee over the ages, Monsieur Guerlain writes:
Jacques Guerlain loved the Impressionists. He aimed to adopt their capture of moods and stirrings, like the so-called effets de soir et de matin, a famous impressionist technique which he developed to hermetic perfection in L’Heure Bleue. […] Inspired by the pastel innocence of tender, trembling wildflowers wet with dew and raindrops, their soft, sweet scent in the damp meadow soil, and the pale mist that occurs when silent rain has fallen on a spring day, […] Après l’Ondée […] used the newest aroma-chemicals: ionone (violet scent), eugenol (clove and carnation scent), heliotropin (almond-cherry scent), and anisic aldehyde.
By a halftone dosage of materials, Jacques Guerlain arranged a sort of olfactory watercolour, playing with subtle nuances of temperature, humidity and haziness, without compromising on tenacity. The main accord was a powdery veil of violet, heliotrope and orris root butter, at once cool and warm and slightly earthy, backlit by the bright, crystalline effect of anise, neroli and carnation. As Jacques Guerlain disliked things to be deadpan or bare, he incorporated a rainbow of lily, orchid, jasmine, rose, hawthorn, vanilla and animal musk. [Emphasis added by me.]
Some of you familiar with Apres L’Ondee may be wondering where is the mimosa in all this discussion. Monsieur Guerlain explains in a separate article on the vintage version that “[t]he scent pyramid of Après l’Ondée doesn’t include mimosa, as is otherwise widely mentioned. Instead, the mimosa scent can be a construct of the listed notes of hawthorn, bouvardia and orchid.”
Be that as it may, Grace Hummel at the Guerlain Perfumes blogspot does include mimosa (“acacia” or “cassia”) on her list for Apres L’Ondee’s subsequent formula, along with a variety of other notes that I detect on my skin to some degree or another:
Top notes: lemon, bergamot, anise, neroli, cassia
Middle notes: orris, violet, sandalwood, rose, ylang ylang, vetiver, carnation, mimosa, jasmine
Base notes: vanilla, benzoin, musk, styrax, heliotrope, iris, amber.
Whatever the specifics of the middle era note list, everyone agrees that it did not remain the same. Sandalwood was introduced in the 1980s to replace the birch leather in many Guerlains, and the later IFRA/EU restrictions from 2005 onwards dramatically impacted the use of eugenol, a critical component of the carnation in Apres L’Ondee’s heart. The type of bergamot was impacted, too. As for the original Tonkin deer musk, it had been banned from all perfumery for ethical reasons around the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Consequently, the list provided by Monsieur Guerlain on his main, overarching Apres L’Ondee article seems to apply to the more recent or modern formulations:
bergamot, lemon, anise, neroli, hawthorn, rosemary, lavender, lily, orchid, violet, rose, jasmine, heliotrope, orris, sandalwood, vanilla, musk.
Based on the two versions that I tried, I think the 1950s extrait that I tried follows the second note list quoted by Guerlain Perfumes. It’s not an identical fit because there was no mimosa or ylang ylang on my skin, but what I smelt went far beyond the limited 1906 ingredients to include things like carnation, vetiver, amber, and resins. (Most definitely carnation and some vetiver!) The 1980s eau de cologne, however, followed the third list, the one provided by Monsieur Guerlain just above, except it had a carnation note as well.
APRES L’ONDEE VINTAGE EXTRAIT (1950s):
1950s Apres L’Ondee extrait opens on my skin with a burst of early morning light cutting through rain drops and dew. Crisp citrus freshness is interspersed with anise that mimics aldehydes, only softer, not waxy, and not soapy. They swirl in the airiest and frothiest of clouds above a spring garden made up of row upon row of delicate violets, sparkling orange blossoms, cool powdery iris, and equally powdery but sweet heliotrope. Woven in-between are smaller rows of sweet jasmine, pale roses, lilies, spicy carnation, and a few sprigs of fresh lavender.
Running through them is a small creek, its body is swollen from the rains but also liquidy sweet from the flowers’ seeping nectar and slightly bitter from the green sap of their crushed stems. A light film of sweet powder lies atop it, pollen blown by an aldehydic breeze from the heliotrope and iris.
A variety of emerald foliage grows wildly all along the creek. Vetiver sprouts in lush abundance, smelling grassy, woody, earthy, and mossy. It’s so lush that it feels as though there were actual oakmoss mixed into it as well as galbanum. Dark, wet loamy soil is visible under everything, smelling of hawthorn mixed with a soft touch of dark musks. On occasion, hawthorn can take on a putrid aroma like that of rotting flesh, but not here. It’s been used carefully and judiciously to underscore the sense of damp vegetation and slightly decomposing wet leaves that have been ground into the earth.
I suspect Jacques Guerlain’s deft manipulation of the herbs is responsible for all this even more than the hawthorn or vetiver, but what’s so brilliant about it is there is nothing actually herbal on my skin. At no point in testing either the extrait or the cologne did I ever smell my arm and think, “Oh, thyme!”, for example. There certainly is not a single whiff of anything remotely suggestive of rosemary. Yet, somehow, those herbs work indirectly to play off the hawthorn and other notes. (Luca Turin points to them as the main factor in creating Apres L’Ondee’s earthiness.) It’s such a feat of technical mastery and genius. Really, Jacques Guerlain was in a class all by himself.
The cumulative effect of his genius is a panoramic view of a garden awakening in Spring, sprouting from the earth and unfurling in the soft morning light. Like a garden captured in all its many and varied facets, the notes ripple across the air, a rainbow where each colour and flower flow seamlessly, one into the next, in a perfectly synchronized dance of romantic beauty, tenderness, and freshness.
During the first 2 to 3 hours, there aren’t stages so much as subtle shifts in emphasis or in the light that shines upon things. For example, after 10 minutes, the carnation blooms and gradually gains in force, spraying its spicy, clove-like floralcy over its softer, dew-laden companions. After 20 minutes, Jacques Guerlain’s beloved leather-styrax awakens deep, deep below the ground, stirring quietly next to the dark musks, but the result is not actual “leather,” per se, but rather a heightened sense of dark earth from whence everything springs. At the same time, the carpet of emerald-green spreads as though walls of ivy and moss were climbing up the garden walls, while a thicket of darker green leaves grows protectively around the unfurling buds. The rising presence of these other notes serves to dampen the aldehydes a little, weakening them, and also cuts into the powder and pollen as well, but the raindrops and dew are left untouched. Roughly 30 minutes in, the secret garden shifts a little, the rows of notes separating to let one shine in their midst. The violet emerges from their ranks, sweeping past the carnation, the rows of multi-faceted greenness, and the dark earthiness to pirouette on center stage with a strength that belies its fragile petals.
For the next 90 minutes, waves of purple ripple over the garden, followed by lesser ones that are pink, white, and red as the roses, heliotrope, jasmine, and carnation trail behind their violet queen. It’s like watching a perfectly choreographic water ballet of synchronized swimmers swirling around their star except, here, they’re moving their bodies in a pool of flowers, greenness, and post-rain wetness. Throughout it all, the anisic “aldehydes” wax and wane, sometimes hiding behind the flowers, sometimes out in force front and center. Whenever they emerge, they combine with the greenness and vetiver to lend a certain sharpness to the scent that isn’t my favourite. I far prefer the carnation which is engaged in a similar dance and whose spiciness is absolutely delightful next to the powdery iris, the marshmallow meringue heliotrope, and the quiet curlicues of jasmine and orange blossom.
The prominence of the carnation is one of the things which separates this version of Apres L’Ondee from vintage L’Heure Bleue in an equivalent extrait concentration with roughly the same age, but it is not the only one. The fragrance is also far greener, wetter, cleaner, and lighter than L’Heure Bleue. On my skin, the latter had a strong focus on orange blossoms, but they rarely play much of a significant, solo part in Apres L’Ondee. Here, the orris’ violets shine whereas, in LHB, they were usually tightly intertwined and fused with heliotrope. In LHB, the floral bouquet bore a light fringe of greenness and little to no wetness, while Apres L’Ondee is lushly, abundantly green and dewy. Age, concentration, and the evaporation of notes really amplified LHB’s muskiness and leather; 60+ years hasn’t done that to the Apres L’Ondee on my skin. I once read a Fragrantica comment that said Apres L’Ondee basically amounted to flanker to LHB and that may be true now, with the modern EDT, but I don’t think it’s the case when one compares the two fragrances in very aged, vintage, and extrait form. There are quite a few of differences in the feel, vibe, visuals, and notes between the two. That said, Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue unquestionably share a close connection, a common violet-heliotrope-anise genetic code (as well as other notes), in addition to a very romantic character which clearly identifies them as siblings borne from the hand of the same man.
Apres L’Ondee changes again at the end of the second hour and the start of the third. The focal point of the floral bouquet is no longer overwhelmingly dominated by the violets which give way to let other flowers take a turn in the spotlight. The carnations march back triumphantly onto center stage, closely followed by lilies that smell specifically like the heady, spicy, nectared Stargazer variety. Together, they flood the scene with richly spiced floralcy. I’m sure the fact that the eugenol in the carnation has concentrated over time is the main reason, but there is a truly beautiful and completely different sort of spiciness emanating from the lilies, a wetter, cooler, fresher, and sweeter sort that is perfect next to the heliotrope’s vanilla meringue. Right behind the carnation and lilies are jasmine, wafting a syrupy sweetness while remaining surprisingly fresh and avoiding indolic, skanky territory. The violets and heliotrope bring up the rear of the marching column, while the roses lie in the shadows on the sidelines.
Other changes are happening at the same time as well. The styrax begins to seep up from the base, and it may be one reason why the composition feels muskier, although it’s never at the levels of L’Heure Bleue extrait on my skin. The anise retreats to the sidelines, wafting a licorice spiciness, but there is no longer anything aldehydic about it. While Apres L’Ondee continues to have a pronounced streak of greenness running through it, it no longer evokes wet leaves or vegetation that’s been ground into dark earth. Now, it feels purely mossy — surprisingly so. When combined with the tiny wisps of bergamot that darts about the edges, the result is an unexpected but definite chypre-ish vibe rather than a purely floral one.
The complex brush strokes, nuances, and details fade away roughly 3.25 hours into Apres L’Ondee’s development when the fragrance turns into a hazy blur. Now, it’s mostly a spicy, sweet, powdery floral cloud smudged ever so lightly at the edges with resins, dark musks, and the softest wisp of greenness. There are only two things that I can easily pull out: first, the carnation which is simultaneously strong but also diffuse and somewhat impressionistic; and, second, the marshmallow-meringue aspect of the powder. As compared to vintage 1960s L’Heure Bleue extrait in its later stages, Apres L’Ondee is much spicier, softer, sheerer, and lighter. Its more purely floral in feel, much less sweet, has significantly less dark muskiness, no leather, no smokiness, and nothing resinous about it. Its lighter, fresh, more floral bouquet is dusted with a hair more powder than LHB in its 1960s extrait form, just a hair, but less so than LHB in its 1980s EDT and PdT versions.
Apres L’Ondee’s drydown begins about 5.75 hours into its development. The flowers die away and benzoin takes over, layered with vanillic tonka. The result is a haze of caramel-scented goldenness infused with spicy, sweet powderiness. It clings to the skin softly like silk chiffon. In Apres L’Ondee’s final hours, all that’s left is lightly spiced sweetness.
Apres L’Ondee extrait had good longevity, but it was less than what I experience with other vintage parfums. The sillage and projection numbers were less, too. The scent felt and operated a lot more like an eau de parfum or a very strong eau de toilette, and that’s with the benefit of some 60+ years of concentration and intensification. Having said that, though, I think Apres L’Ondee was intentionally created and designed to have a lightness, freshness, and softness about it, and one must judge it by that standard. In my tests, I used several generous smears equal to a bit less than 2 solid sprays from a bottle. (This is pure parfum, after all, and is not meant to be applied in the same quantities.) With that amount, Apres L’Ondee initially opened with 3 inches of projection and roughly 4 inches of sillage. The latter grew to about 4-6 inches after 30 minutes when the stronger, richer carnation note kicked in, but it was rather a vaporous scent that fluctuated in its reach, ebbing and flowing depending on which flowers were being highlighted. At the end of the 2nd hour, the projection had dropped to roughly 1 inch, while the sillage was closer to the body unless I moved my arm in which case there was a surprising burst of spicy, sweet florals that streaked across the air in curling vapors. At the 3.5 hour mark, the projection hovered above the skin, and the sillage hugged the body. Apres L’Ondee turned into a skin scent about 4.75 hours into its development, seemed about to die at the top of the 7th hour, but clung on quietly a little while longer. In total, it lasted just under 9.5 hours, but I had to really bury my nose into my arm to detect it from the 7th hour onwards.
APRES L’ONDEE VINTAGE EAU DE COLOGNE (1980s):
Apres L’Ondee eau de cologne is also based on a secret garden after the rains, but it’s a smaller one with significantly less complexity, panoramic breadth, and details. The balance of notes and the focal point of the scent differs, too, right from the start with an opening that is cleaner, crisper, cooler, wetter, sweeter, and more diaphanous on my skin. The cologne begins with gauzy ripples of lemon and bergamot, dotted with faint specks of anisic aldehydes. Powdery lilacs, heliotrope, and violets grow under it, surrounded by only a tiny fringe of delicate green leaves. There are a number of other differences, too. The rain is still pouring in this version, though it’s not a deluge and is only the lightest Spring shower. There is nothing earthy or dark that runs through the base, and the musks which weave around the background are clean, not dark. There is no sign of either the vetiver or the hawthorn in any strong, clear, noticeable way; there are also no suggestions of emerald mosses, wet decaying leaves, herbal earthiness, vegetation, vetiver grasses, or vetiverish woody rootiness.
The nature of the floral bouquet in the cologne’s opening is different as well. There is only a soft suggestion of floral spiciness, but nothing which reads as actual carnations. Instead, there is a preponderance of iris that goes beyond its violet or orris lipstick facets to smell like floral rootiness and a wholly clean, cool, grey, floral softness. It never did so in the extrait. This is a purely floral scent, and it stays that way for hours without any strong, visible vegetal greenness and most certainly without any suggestion of chypre-like qualities lurking underneath.
This is the scent of Apres L’Ondee that I knew and loved in the 1980s. It’s a bouquet that definitely resembles L’Heure Bleue in its 1980s EDT form, but it has much less overlap with Apres L’Ondee in its 1950s extrait form. It doesn’t feel so striking, complex, panoramic, and sweeping; it’s a simpler melody, although very lovely in its own way.
The 1980s cologne shifts in small ways as it develops, but the changes are subtler and sometimes more imperceptible or ambiguous than what occurred in the extrait. It’s more like a reordering of the notes or a shift in their nuances. For example, what few aldehydes there were in the opening melt into the citrus after 10 minutes, and then both of them retreat to the sidelines not long after. The iris grows even more pronounced, sweeping over center stage, followed closely by the violets, the marshmallow-meringue heliotrope, and a powdery, liquidy, and slightly green floral sweetness that consistently and continuously reminds me of lilacs, even though there is no such note in Apres L’Ondee. In the distance, there continues to be the merest whisper of spiciness but it still feels wholly abstract and indeterminate in nature. In the base, there is a flickering hint of something woody, beige, and soft, but it, too, is a whisper that is muffled through a long tunnel.
The notes overlap quickly, turning the scent into a blurry impressionist piece rather than a pristine photo image with crystal clear clarity of notes. It takes a mere 20 to 25 minutes for the flowers to meld together into a hazy bouquet that is sweet, powdery, clean, fresh, and etched with the faintest filaments of green. The iris and violets lie at the center, their petals strewn with rapidly disappearing droplets of dew, but their shape is increasingly nebulous and partially obscured by a finely crafted lade veil of vanilla meringue powder.
Apres L’Ondee cologne continues to shift in its nuances, even if the overall, basic character of the bouquet remains the same. At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, the scent grows marginally spicier and the floral blur changes in its focus when I smell my arm up close. There, the heliotrope’s marshmallow and the iris are being increasingly overshadowed by cool, spicy watery lilies (again, like the Stargazer variety) infused with a vaguely carnation-ish floralcy. A flicker of jasmine syrup and the merest whisper of sweet, fresh pink roses rustle there as well. From afar, though, the cologne continues to be a simple floral impressionistic abstraction overlaid with a sheer veil of sweet and spicy powderiness. That said, it’s actually much less powdery than you might think. I suspect the level of powderiness has changed due to the concentration of notes over the last 30 years because the EDT that I knew in the 1980s was quite powdery.
What interests me about this vintage cologne version is how prominent the lilies have grown over time. Granted, their smell is as diffuse and vaporous as everything else, but I love how much they resemble the fresh, spicy, nectared, dewy sweetness of Stargazers, which are one of my favourite flowers. Apres L’Ondee has far too light and quiet a touch for it to be anywhere as heady, narcotic, or rich as the real flowers, but it’s a delightful, lovely, and inviting touch nonetheless.
There are a few other changes which occur around this time as well. The fragrance gradually grows warmer and spicier, putting an end to any coolness or crispness which lingered from the opening. The spiciness is too amorphous for me to tell if it’s coming from the carnation, the lilies, or the benzoin that is stirring in the base. The heliotrope’s vanillic meringues now begin to wax and wane, sometimes swallowed up within the spicier flowers, sometimes disseminating its powder far and wide.
Roughly 2.5 hours in, Apres L’Ondee cologne is a light, clean, white floral blur centered almost entirely on carnations that have been enveloped within a cloud of sweet powder streaked with clean white musk. In the background, there is an elusive, fleeting flicker of something vaguely violet-ish, but it’s minor and muffled. Actually, the whole fragrance is so soft, so gauzy, and so discreet that I have to sniff my arm up close to really single out any of these elements. From afar, there is merely a vapor of spicy, sweet, powdery, fresh and clean floralcy.
This version of Apres L’Ondee doesn’t change beyond this point except to turn into a skin scent just before the end of the 3rd hour and to dissolve even further. I honestly can’t tell what exactly I’m smelling towards the end of the fragrance’s life. Sometimes, it’s vaguely floral; other times, it’s merely a powdery sweetness with a suggestion of something spicy underneath. It’s so insubstantial in scent and body that it’s difficult for me to detect anything from the fourth hour onwards. What little is left finally dies away a few hours later.
Like most colognes, Apres L’Ondee had a relatively short life and a low amount of projection and sillage. Having said that, I should preface the upcoming numbers by saying that my skin eats through both colognes and light florals with great speed. It also tends to swallow up their sillage. In any event, with several generous smears equal to 2 big sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with 2.5 to 3 inches of projection and sillage that was initially 2-3 inches before briefly growing to about 3-4. At the end of the first hour, the projection had dropped to somewhere between 0.5 to 1 inch, and the sillage was close to my body. Apres L’Ondee hovered just above the skin at the 2.5 hour mark, turned into a skin scent after 3 hours, and lasted 6.5 hours in total.
It was extremely pretty throughout its life, but I would suggest trying the 1980s EDT if you want this basic overall scent profile but with greater longevity. Another alternative is a fragrance that I’ll talk about next time, a modern attar that also has a secret garden at its heart, Violette Noyée, by Sultan Pasha Attars.
Finally, let me briefly mention the gender profile for both versions of Apres L’Ondee. In my opinion, the vintage extrait has quite a few unisex facets and unisex appeal. I know both men and women who wear it. In contrast, I think the 1980s cologne falls squarely into feminine territory.
GUERLAIN APRES L’ONDEE BOTTLE DESIGNS & TYPES:
When Apres L’Ondee was originally released in 1906, it was only as a pure parfum or extrait. It came in a variety of different “flacon” designs in its early years which included the traditional Guerlain quadrilobe and an art deco-ish shaped bottle that seems to have been used in the 1930s, the war years, and the early 1940s.
The bottle most associated with Apres L’Ondee vintage extrait is called the Louis XVI flacon. It was made from glass or crystal, and has a pineapple-like stopper on top. I’ve read that it was intended to symbolically resemble a floral basket but, personally, I think it looks like a whisky decanter. My sample came from a bottle that has a base sticker which dates to the early-to-mid-1950s.
Decades after its release, lighter concentrations joined the extrait. There was an eau de toilette and, according to the Guerlain Perfumes blog, an eau de cologne. The eau de toilette came in the old “Goutte” or teardrop splash bottle and, then, later, in the wide range of atomiser bottles common to many Guerlains in the 1980s. (The photos without captions below are thumbnails where, if you move your mouse over the image, the captions will appear with details about the scent or at least part it. Clicking on the images will open them in a new page for you if you want to look at them up close or read the caption in full.)
The Guerlain Perfumes blog says Apres L’Ondee EDC came in the montre-clock-disk bottle, but I have been unable to find a single photo of it anywhere on the internet, not even in searching through past, archived eBay listings. My sample came from a dram bottle that Adrian at Vivien Treasures was given by Guerlain as a free gift with purchase of many expensive extraits, and it was drawn on site from a perfume urn at the Paris Guerlain boutique in the 1980s. She has a host of other Guerlain colognes that are reportedly from the 1970s that were provided in the same fashion and for the same reason. Adrian is not the only one, though. An Etsy seller, “HardtoFindPerfumes,” also received Guerlain EDCs in dram bottles as a free gift with purchase in the 1980s and they, too, were drawn from Guerlain urns on site, except she says it happened at a Guerlain store in the U.S. The thumbnails photos below show Adrian’s Paris bottle on the left, and the Etsy seller’s American drams on the right. They’re identical:
In short, even if the cologne is not common or widely found, it apparently did exist, and the bottles sometimes came in a special dram form, so if you see an eBay decanter with such a bottle, it’s not a fake. It’s the real Apres L’Ondee. In fact, the in-store special does not seem to have been uniquely limited to the eau de colognes. A search through the eBay archives pulled up the extrait in a different shape. The photos below are from eBay seller, “pineappletrees,” and show a 30 ml bottle:
In terms of batch codes, base stickers, base markings, and packaging, the standard rules apply. If you’re reading my vintage Guerlain posts for the first time, let me point you to the Guerlain Perfumes blog for all the precise, technical specifications on the bottle design. For fragrances with batch codes on their stickers — i.e., those circa 1976 and onwards — Raiders of the Lost Scent has an excellent post on the matter, and it also covers Guerlain packaging and boxes throughout the ages as well. For fragrances prior to 1967 that simply have a coloured sticker resembling a postage stamp on the bottle’s base, there is nothing as invaluable and informative as The Raiders‘ post on that particular topic.
APRES L’ONDEE AVAILABILITY, PRICES & SAMPLES:
If I may be frank and if you’ll pardon my using the old expression, “beggars can’t be choosers” when it comes to Apres L’Ondee. It simply does not appear with sufficient frequency or in sufficient quantities for things like dates, shapes, or packaging to really matter. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across a bottle, the only issue will be how wide you can open your wallet, not what the base sticker on the bottle says. I realise that will put most of you off trying Apres L’Ondee, and I sympathize completely. Vintages can be a lot of work, and modern fragrances are so much easier in their accessibility. But, if you’re interested in smelling a much beloved Guerlain legend (if only to further your own perfume education), there is always the option of a sample.
To that end, I point you back to Adrian at JE&V Treasures on eBay. Ever since the decant services were forced to stop selling all samples of Guerlain fragrances, hers is the only place I’ve found that carries the fragrance in different versions and for a low price. She sells vintage 1950s Apres L’Ondee extrait starting at $8.99 for a 1/4 ml vial. 1 ml costs $19 and comes with a free gift of 2 mls of vintage Shalimar EDC. The vintage Apres L’Ondee 1980s cologne starts at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial. It’s $9.99 for 2 mls, and it comes with the same free Shalimar cologne gift with your purchase. In addition, Adrian also offers a sample set of 4 vintage extraits — Chant D’Aromes, Apres L’Ondee, Vol De Nuit, and Shalimar — in 1/4 ml vials for a set price of $19.
I encourage you to browse through all her offerings because she has a spectacular collection, and she adds to the listings every few weeks. For example, right now, she’s selling samples of Guerlain’s rare Guerlarose in vintage extrait form, and the even rarer Rue de La Paix that I’d never even heard of before Adrian kindly sent me a sample. It was launched in 1908 and turns out to be a very fresh, clean, sweet, naturalistic rose, speckled with the aldehydes, framed lightly with aromatics, herbal greenness, and clean musk. Some of her unusual or uncommon vintage extraits are not listed, like her vintage Liu extrait. That one would appeal to people who love Chanel as much as Guerlain, because it’s an aldehydic floral that was launched in 1929 and was inspired by No. 5. This past summer there were rumours that the current Liu was going to be discontinued, but they turned out to be unfounded. Adrian’s samples give you the opportunity to try it in an extremely old, vintage form. If that interests you, you may want to drop Adrian a note to see if you can buy a sample even if she has not yet listed it. I’ve found her easy to work with and very accommodating. (She also ships extremely quickly!)
Finally, she also has a number of fragrances from other brands, like famous old Chanels and Patous, and several of those she’s selling in actual bottle form, not as samples. One that caught my eye was Balenciaga‘s vintage Le Dix which reportedly has been called “Chanel No. 5 with violets.” If one of these fragrances tempts you but you live outside the U.S., my suggestion is to see if an American friend will let you use his or her address for delivery. They can then forward the package on to you.
Another option is for you and Adrian (or any eBay seller for that matter) to work with eBay’s Global Shipping Program (GSP). It’s basically is a 3rd party or middle-man delivery system where the seller ships to a US GSP location which then sends the package on to you. They ship to over 100 different countries. There are no fees for the seller to join the program, you pay any import fees on your purchase, but GSP takes care of all the paperwork. As a side note, you receive eBay and PayPal protection, too. The GSP is a way around seller restrictions on overseas shipping, so if you really love a fragrance, it may be something to consider.
There aren’t many options besides Adrian if you want to try vintage Apres L’Ondee in an affordable fashion. A worldwide search of eBay pulled up only two things: a 5 ml vial of the extrait for $95, and a $1,600 bottle of the 1960s extrait offered by a French seller. A worldwide search of Etsy also resulted in two listings: a 2 ml vial of 1980s vintage extrait for $52, and larger decants of various 1980s Guerlain colognes. Apres L’Ondee EDC starts at $19.99 for 5 ml. (Adrian has that size for $18).
MODERN ALTERNATIVES TO APRES L’ONDEE?:
One reason why I’ll be covering Sultan Pasha’s Violette Noyée attar next is because it is a modern alternative and it is readily available, although it is not cheap, either. (I had actually intended to include its analysis and review in this article, but had to cut that section out to post later because the piece was becoming ridiculously long.) That said, I must stress here and now that Violette Noyée is not identical to Apres L’Ondee. It lacks several elements that Apres L’Ondee relies upon, and also adds quite a few other notes that are not in the Guerlain like mimosa, muguet (lily of the valley), lilacs, ylang ylang, violet leaf, genuine ambergris, and labdanum. The type of garden at its midst feels completely different; so does its textural weight, heaviness, density, degree of darkness, and muskiness. [UPDATE: The Violette Noyée review has just been posted and you can read it here.]
For me, Violette Noyée actually suits my personal style and tastes better than Apres L’Ondee extrait, works better on my skin, and also has better longevity, too, so it will be my next purchase. I love the opulent density yielded by just a single drop applied with a paper clip. (If you’re unfamiliar with the SPA attars, you don’t use more than that, so 1 ml of the fragrance is practically the equivalent of 30 ml of a normal extrait.) Violette Noyée’s density makes the 1950s Apres L’Ondee parfum look like water in comparison, but that’s one of the great things about an attar, in my opinion. I’m not the only one who loves VN, either. A number of Apres L’Ondee lovers rave about it as well. Guerlain purists, however, do not like the attar’s muskiness, thickness, and minimal sparkling (or aldehydic) light. They far prefer the original with its softer, sheerer nature, its nostalgic character, and its pastel hues.
I can’t think of any other modern alternatives to Apres L’Ondee, nothing which encompasses the breadth of its olfactory scope or feel. Yes, there are violet fragrances, violet-heliotrope-iris ones, lilac ones, mimosa ones, carnation ones, dewy florals, and even a fragrance inspired by Monet’s garden (DSH‘s Giverny in Bloom), but none of them combine all those things or are really similar. That’s one reason why I encourage those of you who love the modern version of Apres L’Ondee EDT, the modern version of L’Heure Bleue, or any of the scent descriptions here to see if you can find a sample of the vintage.
LUCA TURIN & FINAL THOUGHTS:
In my opinion, if you like this fragrance genre and the notes in question, then it’s absolutely worth the effort to try Apres L’Ondee in its vintage form. It really is! The fragrance is brilliantly crafted and truly exquisite, so it’s hardly surprising that Luca Turin considers to be one of the greatest fragrances ever made. In Perfumes: the A-Z Guide, co-written with Tania Sanchez, Mr. Turin gave Apres L’Ondee a Five Star review and wrote, in part:
The advantages of working with a clean sheet of paper are priceless: see the perfection of the first Windsurfer, the first small jet airliner […] and in this case (1906) the first serious heliotropin fragrance. The almond-floral note of heliotropin, so reminiscent of the spring-like powdery pallor of mimosa, demands a certain type of wan radiance, which Après L’Ondée embodies perfectly. But as usual with Guerlain, there is a lot more to it than that. The […] heliotropin is offset by a melanchioly, powdery iris note. [… Then] Guerlain suffuses the whole thing with optimistic sunlight by using, as in so many of their classic fragrances, a touch of what a chef would call a bouquet de Provence: thyme, rosemary, safe. This discreet hint of earthly pleasures is what makes Après L’Ondée smile through its tears. Among pale, romantic fragrances, only Après L’Ondée has the unresolved but effortless feel of the watery pianio chords that make Debussy’s pieces […] so poignant. One of the twenty greatest perfumes of all time. [Emphasis to words added by me.]
Even people who dislike or struggle with the legendary Guerlain fragrances of the past (Shalimar, Mitsouko, etc.) seem to adore Apres L’Ondee. Robin at Now Smell This is one of them, saying: it is “the one classic Guerlain that I can say that I adore without reservation.” One of her reasons why is the fact that Apres L’Ondee is lighter, fresher, and sheerer than its siblings. Another she summed up by quoting a comment by Luca Turin:
Its simplicity, its keen nostalgia, and its unadorned beauty make this an anomaly for Guerlain.
It’s true, Apres L’Ondee is quite different from its turn-of-the-century siblings, although I personally don’t think the vintage extrait version is simple at all, not the one I tried. But there is no question that there is something about the fragrance that makes it stand out and/or touches people emotionally. Some people bring up Debussy, I think of Monet, but all of it is about heart-breaking tenderness, “unadorned beauty,” and romance. I hope some of you get to try it for yourselves.
Disclosure: I purchased my sample of Apres L’Ondee vintage extrait, but a sample of the cologne was kindly provided by Adrian of JE&V Treasures on eBay.That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.