Mouchoir de Monsieur by Guerlain (1904)

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Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904) was created by Jacques Guerlain and released in response to the unexpected male interest in Guerlain Jicky (1889) created by his uncle Aimé Guerlain, the preceding steward of the house. Jicky is often considered the Western world’s first truly abstract perfume, as it was built along similar “fougère” lines with lavender tonka and oakmoss, much like Fougère Royale from Houbigant (1882) a few years prior, but itself not considered part of that nascent genre because of how different and undefined as a smell it truly was. However, there must have been something attractive in the heady combination of aromatics, florals, animalic tones, and citruses in Jicky that drew men to it like a magnet, something virile yet sophisticated, leading them to buy it almost as much if not intially more than women who were thought to be the original target market for Aimé’s creation. Still, there were others who liked the way it smelled, but would not bring themselves to wear a perfume potentially shared with “the fairer sex” because that’s just how things were then. So, with an ever-increasing interest in grooming and fragrant products thanks to the popularity of the dandy aesthetic into the 20th century, it became advantageous for Guerlain to modify something they already knew sold well to men so that it now would be labelled as explicitly for them, opening the door to those guys that needed security in their masculinity with their choice to wear fragrance. Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904) is therefore only really a stone’s throw away from Jicky in style, and if you were to decant them each into unlabelled bottles you might be hard-pressed to tell them apart from a glance, but there are differences.

The biggest difference for me is that Mouchoir de Monsieur makes an effort to be more of a proper fougère than Jicky. Of course, this was before the term had quite been established as one defining an entire genre, as said genre was still only emerging as such into the 1900’s, so what I really mean is more “like Fougère Royale” and less “like Jicky”. This is not altogether surprising since Jacques Guerlain is famous for innovating on the backs of others’ inventions, with his most famous perfumes being “improvements” on designs laid forth by peers like François Coty. If you view Mouchoir de Monsieur in this light, you find it less of an “improvement” on Paul Parquet’s work in Fougère Royale and more of a grafting process where characteristics of Fougère Royale’s design were smashed into Jicky to replace some of it’s more scandalous elements, then finessed into form. The opening of Mouchoir de Monsieur hits you with a ton of sweet lavender, bright geranium, lemon verbena, and bergamot. From the get go, this is already more in the direction of what would eventually be a barbershop trope, and away from Jicky’s sweeter initial tones, but Mouchoir de Monsieur does inherit Jicky’s lack of a proper structured dry down, collapsing into a huge base swimming with notes just like Jicky. Indolic florals have been toned down some, as have spices, and the structure leans more into smooth musks and aromatics as per the male preference of the day. This means civet and tonka do most of the talking, with a creamy powdery sandalwood note replacing the orris butter and benzoin in Jicky. Vanilla is still here, as is patchouli and amber, but Mouchoir de Monsieur is more polite even if only by a few degrees.

Wear time is sufficient for a day although I don’t know if I would want to spend a day in something this rich. Mouchoir de Monsieur has semi-oriental DNA that would later see repetition in other fougère scents from the first half of the 20th century like Caron Pour un Homme (1934) and D’Orsay Arôme 3 (1943), and that DNA makes it feel very redolent and luxuriant like more modern semi-oriental fougères from brands like Creed and Roja Dove. Mouchoir de Monsieur is properly gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so gorgeous that it doesn’t feel relaxed enough to just enjoy at work or a chill day, so I’d recommend formal use. Luckily, Mouchoir de Monsieur is also a fragrance that has survived the generations of existence it has relatively unmolested by reformulation, even if subtle reductions in civet musk over the years have rendered much of the shock value it had in days gone by as inert. Smelling vintage Mouchoir de Monsieur side-by-side with modern will at first feel like removing a NSFW filter from your web browser then turning it back on, because that civet just unzips its fly and lets everything hang out in the vintage, but then barely registers a blip in modern iterations. However, once things dry down and settle, the lavender and geranium get quiet enough in the modern version that they stand on even footing with the deep musky vanillic tonka and oakmoss base like they do from the onset in vintage, making old and new smell about 90% alike. Simply put, if you want to smell like an old Burlesque but refuse to share your perfume with the dancers, you wear Mouchoir de Monsieur, the advertised scent of a gentleman’s handkerchief. Penguin suit and top hat sold separately. Thumbs up.

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