A Little Guerlain History Lesson

Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain “Glory is short-lived. Only renown lasts.” Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain, founder of Guerlain

Now part of the established stable of French luxury goods, Guerlain was ahead of the curve from the beginning, opening a beauty shop on the fashionable rue de Rivoli. Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain, a physician and chemist, opened his first boutique in 1828, on the ground floor of the Hotel Meurice. The boutique drew celebrities of the day, including Marchioness de Girardin and Lord Seymour.

Devotees were fixated by the success of Eau de Cologne Imperiale (1858), which became a favourite of the French court, and earned Guerlain the title of His Majesty’s Official Perfumer. Guerlain created scents for the leading royalty of the time, including Queen Isabella of Spain and Queen Victoria of England. Alongside house creations like soap and creams, the boutique stocked the leading skin creams and cosmetics of the day, creating a unique one stop beauty shop for Parisians. In 1870, Guerlain created the first lipstick, with a refillable container and push-up mechanism.

His sons, Aime and Gabriel continued on the tradition of perfume creation, creating Fleur d’Italie (1884), Guerlain Jicky Rococo (1887) and the very popular Jicky (1889), the world’s first scent to combine natural and synthetic ingredients. The link with celebrity continued as exclusive scents were created for actresses Sarah Bernhardt, Cecile Sorel and Jane Harding. Third generation Jacques Guerlain took on the 20th century creating Jasmin, Eau de fleurs de Cedrat and Coque d’Or as well as Lynx kohl pencil and Rose Lip Bengale lipstick. In 1925, the creation of Shalimar with its Art Deco style bottle was shown at the annual Decorative Arts Exhibition in 1925.

“We make what we know how to make and we sell what we make.” Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain

As a venerable house, Guerlain has stayed ahead of the trend, creating scents and beauty products that reflect the time – Vol de Nuit (1933) inspired by writer Saint-Expury, Teint Dore par le Soeil, a sunless tanning product (1938), reflecting the preference for the glow on summer on skin year round, and the first beauty salon on the Champs Elysees (1939) with furniture from Jean-Michel Franck and art from Giacometti. At the end of World War II, American soldiers lined up to purchase Guerlain scents and Scarlet blusher to bring to their sweethearts.

Guerlain Meteorites Poudre With the fourth generation came the creation of Vetiver (1959), Chant d’Aromes (1962) and Chamade (1965). Infused with the youthful joy of the decade, Guerlain opened a boutique on the Left Bank and during the 1970s, the launch of Parure (1975) embodied the ultra-feminine freedom of the time. In the 1980s, with a focus on makeup, came the creation of Terracotta, a powder to add a sun kissed glow to skin, becoming a sought-after must for every woman’s makeup kit. Guerlain also introduced Meterorites (1987), a loose powder to enhance any complexion. The 1990s were dedicated to skin care, with the expansion of the Issima collection as well as the continued creation of perfumes, such as Cherry Blossom and the Aqua Allegoria collection.

The 21st century continues the legacy of 180 years of Guerlain success, with seven boutiques outside France (Canada, Japan, US, Russia), over 300 fragrances and continuing the tradition of unique cosmetics, and skincare. Spring 2009 from Guerlain will see the introduction of the Terracotta 2009 collection, Rouge G lipstick de Guerlain, infused with synthetic rubies and La Petite Robe Noir, the latest fragrance infused with rose and licorice.

Available at Guerlain boutiques

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  • Fascinating! I love reading about the history of cosmetics and can never find enough information. You should think about making this into a regular feature on the blog. Thanks so much!

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