Guerlain Jicky was created by Aimé Guerlain in 1889 as a parfum extrait. The eau de cologne was launched in 1945 and the parfum de toilette in 1987. Jicky is a unisex (probably the world's first) fougere - dirty lavender on sweet hay - and features top notes of bergamot, neroli, verbena, lemon, orange and rosemary from the Eau de Cologne Imperiale formula which was used in Jicky, geranium and lavender; middle notes of mint, absinthe, tuberose, jasmine, rose, cinnamon, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver and civet; and base notes of orris, tonka bean, ambergris, musk and vanilla.
It was created for the Exposition Universelle and is the world's oldest perfume in continuous production. While not the first fragrance to use synthetic notes (Houbigant's Fougere Royale was the first using coumarin) it was the first of the modern abstract fragrances and is considered today by many as being one of the greatest fragrances of all times. By combining traditional cologne notes of citrus and Provençal herbs with three of the earliest synthetic fragrance compounds (linalool, vanillin and coumarin) Aimé found a way to make a more creative perfume.
The bottle we are decanting from is from 1968 and was an unopened vintage find.
From Monsieur Guerlain
Frédéric Sacone explains that upon researching Aimé Guerlain's handwritten formula for Jicky, he discovered that it lists the famous Eau de Cologne Impériale as one of the ingredients. Hence, Aimé Guerlain's idea was to use his father's invigoratingly citrusy and aromatic cologne as a top note inside a new and completely novel perfume composition with spicy-floral, ambery and animal notes. Thierry Wasser tells us that the link between Eau de Cologne Impériale and Jicky is an example of the continuity that plays such an important role in Guerlain's creativity, and that it's the same sort of continuity that years later led to the creation of Shalimar. That Jacques Guerlain made Shalimar by pouring ethylvanillin into a bottle of Jicky is a well-known story. However, Thierry Wasser confesses that he's not an advocate of the Jicky-plus-ethylvanillin theory, because in reality it was probably not that simple. Still, he says Jicky teaches us a lot about what inspired Jacques Guerlain: herbs, bergamot, jasmine, rose, spices, animal notes and a gourmand base — in short, the Guerlinade.
At a time when most perfumes bore names that were descriptive of how they smelled, Aimé Guerlain went against the tide and named the fragrance Jicky. We know that Jicky was the nickname of his nephew Jacques Guerlain, but Guerlain attaches a bittersweet love story to the naming. Jicky was the diminutive of Jacqueline, an English girl with whom Aime had fallen in love during his chemistry studies in England but could not pursue due to the disapproval of her family. Reportedly he created Jicky for the memory of his great love.
In her book, Le Roman des Guerlain, historian and perfume expert Élisabeth de Feydeau recounts that Jicky was actually not made by Aimé alone, but was a joint creation between him and his talented 15-year-old nephew, Jacques, whose extraordinary creativity likely contributed a great deal to the final result.
The perfume Jicky might seem like an elementary lavender fragrance, but when you look closer it was complex, architectural, indefinable, and rich in the tiniest detail. Spicy but softly powdery, both innocent and animalic, it expressed a beautiful, seamless symmetry between refined lady and seductress. Of all its components, coumarin was perhaps the most interesting, due both to its historic newness in the lab and to its crucial role in Jicky's formula. Coumarin is a natural isolate found in tonka bean and in several grasses and plants. It is overall sweet-smelling, but in higher concentrations it has a biting undertone reminiscent of bitters and petrol, or even glue. This aspect was very present in Jicky, usually striking the novice as odd before settling into a state of pleasurable dependence.
Jicky was the antidote to all prior flower-scented waters, coinciding with the beginnings of modern art where the faithful reproduction of nature gave way to impressions of light. Jicky, too, was an abstract creation that appealed to the nose on many levels, not just one, and it initiated the "emotive perfumery", a whole new attitude among perfumers who would from now on try to evoke feelings instead of copying flowers. Because it married herbs with sensual sweetness, and natural notes with synthetics, Jicky is in retrospect referred to as a "bridge scent", a link between the nineteenth century's fresh colognes and the deep oriental perfumes of the twentieth. In fact, Jicky smelled as if Eau de Cologne Impériale, with its citrus oils, lavender, verbena and rosemary, were poured into a mixture of amber and animal materials. It sounds simple, and maybe it was, but the effect was phenomenal and has been used by Guerlain ever since. All Guerlain perfumes after Jicky have followed the same basic scheme, later called the Guerlinade, of citrus, Provençal herbs, rose, jasmine, amber, powder, and musky notes.
Considering its very advanced age, it's staggering how relevant Jicky still is to perfumery, an ideal of imagination, balance, drydown technology, and grace. When Jicky first appeared, many women did not accept or understand it — the hint of "unclean" odour was unexpected back in those days, and it started the reputation of Guerlain as ambassador of French sexiness, for courtesans rather than for ladies. In fact, men were the first to appreciate Jicky, and it wasn't until 1912 that women's magazines began to sing its praises. By then, Guerlain had become known as a house of elegance. Today, Aimé Guerlain is acclaimed mainly for this single perfume whose delicious olfactory harmony, without his knowing, was to lay the ground for the influential oriental category of fragrances and be defining for the entire Guerlain style.
From Yesterday's Perfumes
I began to crave the civet-drenched Jicky in a hard-to-explain way. I couldn't find my modern-day vial, so I went and got a sample of vintage, parfum-concentration Jicky. Like a junkie seeking a hit of civet but having to wait for it to kick in, I was a little disappointed that the parfum concentration was so well-blended and rounded! Unlike the modern EDT, which gives you a one-two punch of lavender/civet, the vintage parfum Jicky took its sweet time to take off its underpants, as it were.
Like a horny teenage boy faced with a gorgeous, brilliant woman, I was not inclined to appreciate having to make small talk with Jicky before she showed me her carnal side. But, it had to happen. I got to know Jicky first as lavender, then as bergamot, easing into vanilla, and then, in the afterglow, the civet that hovered over these bright notes like the smell of sex after a romp between two freshly bathed people.
From Roja Dove (The Essence of Perfume)
Jicky was launched exactly 100 years after the French Revolution; it too was revolutionary, and shocked in a way that has rarely been equaled. The volume of civet in its base is truly outrageous, and any trained nose would wonder how he got away with it: in true Guerlain style, Aime created something magnificent. No woman in polite society would have dared wear it and only the most audacious man took the risk (perhaps it reminded them of the civet of the earlier part of the century). It was to take many years before women readily adopted it, but adopt it they most certainly did.
It is a fragrance that is considered one of the very first “modern” creations, both in terms of its use of synthetically extracted molecules and in terms of being truly unisex. In fact, Jicky seems to have been originally marketed as a men’s fragrance before women took it over for their own. I think it is a masterpiece that anyone of any gender who enjoys aromatic perfumes centered on lavender should try for themselves.
From a technical and perfume aspect, Jicky is significant for a variety of reasons. There is the issue of the synthetic coumarin molecules used for one of the first times in perfumery (after Houbigant did it for his perfume) and the unisex angle, but Jicky is also important because it serves as the template for many of Guerlains which followed. Many people find Jicky to be extremely similar to Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur, but it also seems to be the template for Shalimar, and some people argue that the latter is simply an oriental version of Jicky that has leathery resins and more vanilla, but not its boyish, herbal, outdoorsy, and dirty, masculine, civet elements.
One thing that is important for people to understand about Jicky is that it is an aromatic fougère. It is a genre that is often today associated with male fragrances and colognes, which is perhaps why some women find Jicky to be too masculine a scent. However, the fougère is one of the oldest and most classical perfume groups.
From The Black Narcissus
Sometimes I just take my giant green velvet box of parfum, open the lid, just look at Jicky undisturbed, and let its exquisite emanations reach my nostrils.
The flacon lies benevolent, secure in its felt indentation; safe in the knowledge of its beauty; and what I smell, in these moments, is a work of stunning, fleeting sensations: the living bergamot and lemon essences; a flourishing lavender; a garland of herbs from an English garden: verbena, sweet marjoram, and the tiniest nuance of mint. I am entranced.
But like Narcissus, leaning in at the edge, there lies trouble in these depths……what are the rude aphrodisia lurking down below in those murky waters…..? I take the bottle and apply the stopper to my skin, and at first, in essence, all is an excelsis deo of perfect harmony. I inhale : no perfume has more soul. But the citrus has now gone….
Smiling, warmer notes now appear with the lavender in counterpoint; wisps of sandalwood, and that suave, and – let’s not beat about the bush – fecal undertone (an unembarrassed, frank anality of musk, ambergris and civet, sewn together by les petits mains in the ateliers Guerlain with a more civilized accord of incense, benzoin and coumarin)..and it is here where Jicky, suddenly, becomes more difficult.
In a modern context, this scent is almost scandalous in its animality (and very, very French – you can almost hear them laughing at us paling, moralistic Anglo Saxons running from its carnal openness): and so to really wear Jicky, therefore, to have what it takes, you have to be able to carry off this aspect of the perfume – which is never crude, more a deliciously francophile embellishment of the human; but if you can, if you can, it can be magical: an ambisexual, historied and haunting skin scent that is simply beautiful – suited to people, not gender.
From Grain de Musc
Is it by chance that one of the first fragrances to have burst forth from the shackles of apothecaries’ recipes, the only one to have been continuously produced since its launch in 1889, has been hesitating for so long on its gender attribution that its sex is still undetermined? To this day, no one really knows if Guerlain’s Jicky was first meant for men or for women: at the time, all scents were shared.
In his Perfume Legends, Michael Edwards ponders at some length on the hesitation that surrounded Jicky’s birth. According to Philippe Guerlain, “Jicky was such a revolutionary perfume that it seemed more masculine to Gabriel [Guerlain, who was in charge of business], Aimé’s brother. Jicky was a bit harsher than the sweet flowery notes of the time.” However, men were reluctant it seems to accept the fragrance. “When they realized that Jicky was too modern for men, they decided to target it towards women”, adds Philippe Guerlain.
“It is only in 1912 that women’s magazines start singing its praises”, explains Colette Fellous, the author of a book on Guerlain (editions Denoël, 1989), also quoted in Perfume Legends. Women, whose taste had meanwhile been educated by great abstract compositions saturated with synthetic compounds like Coty’s L’Origan (1905) or Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée (1906) and L’Heure Bleue (1912), were clearly more ready to move onto uncharted territories, just at they would in fashion – Poiret had already inspired them to drop the corset. Men, on the other hand, were still encased in the stiff black suits inherited from the 19th century.
However, Jicky was, and is still shared by men and women: any perfume that can boast, among its wearers, both Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, or Roger Moore and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, either suffers from serious gender dysmorphia or sings with the voice of an angel – who, as we all know, has no sex.
Like Balzac’s Seraphitus/Seraphita, with whom Luca Turin compares it in his first French language guide, Jicky’s identity has never stopped swinging back and forth. Since its birth, the combination of lavender and coumarin, the aromatic note of rosemary, the green, lacteous roundness of geranium are accords that have been widely used in masculine fragrances. But the lushness of its jasmine and rose heart, the edibility of vanillin, cinnamon-tinged benzoin and smoky opoponax gives it an amplitude that escapes any rigid classification.
Of course, Jicky hasn’t survived for over a century without undergoing a few tweaks, if only because the animal substances used at the time are no longer available. I own a perfume that was probably produced pre-war and the smell has miraculously remained intact, so that I was able to compare it with a modern extrait – which fortunately remains as faithful as possible to the original. The older scent, as is almost always the case, has a smoothness and a depth that can only come when natural musk is used, as its makes all the notes pop out. The quality of the lavender seems to be a bit different. Real civet brings animalic notes that would certainly not be considered tolerable in the modern market.
A member of Makeup Alley once stated, very funnily, that to her, Jicky smelled “like a cat crapped in the lavender patch” – and she was talking about the current fragrance. Which only goes to show how Jicky, thought to be too modern at its launch, has remained improper, precisely in what links it to the near-extinct tradition of classical perfumery: the inclusion of “dirty” notes, which transform sweet-smelling blends into alchemical compositions, and allow stench, distilled in infinitesimal doses, to enrich the exquisite suavity of flowers and spices.