France is famous all over the world for its luxury products like perfume or haute couture.
Maison Guerlain’s ambition is to be unique in the world. To this end it offers its clientele exclusive creations and exceptional services, over and above its classic product range. Drawing on its extraordinary olfactory heritage of over 700 perfumes created over 177 years, Guerlain possesses an unequalled expertise and continues to make new perfumes in its quest to find formulas to titillate sensitive nostrils, an extravagance at a time when industrial perfumes are flooding the world with cheap scents.
An exceptional history
In 1828 Pierre François Pascal Guerlain opened his first perfume house in the Rue de Rivoli and very soon his shop became the chic place to meet of the whole of Paris.
In 1914 Maison Guerlain opened a boutique in a private mansion designed by the architect Méwès at 68 Champs-Elysées in Paris, the same architect to whom we owe the Hotel Ritz on the Place Vendôme.
On the eve of the Second World War, this sumptuous setting was home to the first beauty institute in the world on its first floor.
A few decades later, in 2005, this architectural jewel has been given a fantastic facelift, masterfully orchestrated by a very special pair, namely, the architect Maxime d’Angeac and the star of interior decoration, Andrée Putman.
The boutique on the ground floor has not been altered in any way and retains its incomparable baroque décor, but on arriving at the first floor, the visitor is stunned by the lustre, wealth and luminosity of the building.
Guerlain’s intention is to plunge visitors into the interior of a flask of perfume where they can experience the swirling, changing fragrance.
Andrée Putman has designed a circular opening in the floor of the ’perfume hall’ thus making the two levels communicate. A gigantic chandelier with gold chains descends from the ceiling and is also visible from the ground floor. A circular array of perfumes surrounds this luminous extravaganza and sets the scene for Maison Guerlain’s fragrances, totalling 67 noted names. Presented on this elegant console, this nostalgic sequence allows us to (re)discover some ancient treasures: ‘Milord’s Kerchief’ and ‘Milady’s Hat Veil’, created in 1904 by Jacques Guerlain for a couple, and also ‘Vega’, ‘Derby’, ‘Liu’ and ‘Caution’. Here we can also admire the imperial fountains and their high-tech design as thought up by Andrée Putman and fill the celebrated flask decorated with bees, created for the Empress Eugénie in 1853, with our favourite fragrance.
The ultimate luxury: a custom-made perfume
Finally we enter into the holy of holies, the salon with custom-made perfumes. Everything begins with a one-to-one meeting with Sylvaine Delacourte. By asking precise questions she will determine your olfactory heritage: that of childhood, of adolescence or of adulthood. The consultation continues. Using a set of cards providing different photographs of nature, ambiances, textiles and raw materials, she refines her inquiry. “The client’s choice allows me to confirm and validate her suggestions, to obtain more information by using images”, explains Sylvaine Delacourte. “I continue this exercise by asking the client to choose two fabrics out of satins, gauzes, silks and paisleys, and to explain her choice. Finally I ask her to smell accords with chypres, oriental fragrances, musks, woods, etc.” At the end of the meeting, the client returns home with a small booklet containing three accords that she has selected. This first appointment is followed by two fittings (as in haute couture), at which the perfume is fine-tuned. The final perfume will be ready after six months at the earliest, and sometimes after a year. You are provided with three litres of ’your’ fragrance. According to your inclinations, you can choose from an extract, a perfume or an eau de toilette. The precious liquid is stored in different Baccarat crystal flasks which you can buy for 30,000 euros upwards.
Returning to its tradition of custom-made perfumes, Maison Guerlain offers to make a dream come true: to have your own unique perfume, designed according to your wishes and for your lifetime. Nonetheless, you must be patient before you can be granted this treasure. Those of us who do not have the time to devote to designing a custom-made fragrance can nevertheless select the perfume of our dreams from Guerlain’s Private Collection, a cornucopia of exclusive perfumes. The formula will remain a secret and will only be recreated for the person for whom it was made.
The unparalleled expertise of the French luxury company with the famous horse and carriage logo has earned Hermès worldwide fame. The meticulous attention to detail that goes into crafting the emblematic Kelly and Birkin bag defies imitation; this scrupulous precision is the central feature of the intangible Hermès legacy. The conservation and transmission of this know-how can only be achieved through highly specialised training and instruction.
Founded in 1837, Hermès was originally a family saddle workshop specialising in horse riding equipment. The company pursued this activity over the years while expanding its product range considerably, particularly in the early 20th century. The 1925 launch of the first Hermès handbag revolutionised the world of women’s fashion. In 1937, it was the turn of the silk square scarf, which Hermès also offered in the form of ties and pocket squares. The company began manufacturing small leather goods and fashion accessories, using the leather scraps left over from the crafting of saddles, harnesses and riding crops. Through this diversification, Hermès developed considerably and was soon listed on the stock exchange. Yet the business remained in the hands of the Hermès family, guarantor of the company’s spirit and philosophy. Today’s product range is varied - from bags and small leather goods to clothing, home objects (the first tableware set was introduced in 1984) and timepieces - but a permanent feature endures: the patterns, materials and style are all related to horses. True to its equestrian roots - embodied in the company’s horse and carriage logo - the expertise developed by Hermès is now equated with its brand image. Each handcrafted piece is produced by of one and the same worker, who oversees the item’s entire development. This process even includes the timepieces - one of the company’s most recent innovations. Each leather item is fashioned by a single craftsman (from cutting the pattern to packaging the finished product), and each item is stamped with the specific mark of the employee who created it.
Hermès articles are exquisitely refined and their production requires a high degree of patience and precision. To uphold this traditional know-how, synonymous with the name Hermès, the company has centralised all of its production activity in large workshops. In the early 1980s, it acquired various craftsmen workshops on the verge of closing in a move to protect and retain the highly specialised skills required to make Hermès products.
In parallel to this, Hermès also trains the workers entrusted with preserving the company’s manufacturing secrets. As such, it has developed numerous educational partnerships with public and private schools. These establishments offer students the opportunity to obtain their technical or vocational training certificate under the guidance of a specialised Hermès instructor dispatched by the company. This guest professor is involved in the training process and transmits the company’s extremely specific techniques. Often, the students (who already have a secondary school diploma or equivalency) are involved in a learning programme whereby they spend equal amounts of time at school and at the Hermès workshops.
Like other secondary schools in the centre or north of France, the Abbé Grégoire School, located in Paris, has signed a partnership agreement with Hermès. Such establishments offer diplomas that provide generalised training, after which some students are sent on-site to Hermès for a certain period of time in order to learn specific techniques. During this training, the apprentices are required to learn the skills necessary for crafting five styles of bags, in five different colours and five types of leather. If at the end of this trial period the apprentice has not acquired the requisite expertise, he may be asked to leave - in the interests of the company’s reputation. Becoming a Hermès craftsman requires patience: once this initial step has been successfully completed, novices will remain under the supervision of a trainer for an additional three years. The gradual incorporation of new workers into the company enables them to develop their abilities while acquiring the unmistakeable Hermès style. They becomecompany assets who guarantee the quality of the items sold. As this French family-run business moves further away from its original scope of activities, it continues to expand its lineage, ensuring that future generations also discover the Hermès commitment to fine materials and rigorous craftsmanship.
A pioneer of 20th century fashion and the first of the great couturiers to launch her own line of perfumes, Gabrielle Chanel also innovated in the area of fine jewelry. Since 1993, this activity has constituted one of the three pillars of the Maison Chanel.
In November 1932, Gabrielle Chanel - “Coco” for her friends - exhibited a collection of fine jewelry in the salons of her private mansion in Paris. A few months earlier, in the midst of the economic crisis, representatives from the International Guild of Diamond Merchants had approached the legendary muse of Paris’ Roaring Twenties and asked her to design a sparkling collection that would bring the most dazzling of precious stones back to center stage. Advised by the companion with whom she shared two years of her life, talented illustrator Paul Iribe, Mademoiselle Chanel imagined various diamond pieces set in platinum and based on three themes: knots, stars and feathers. Fluid and mobile, each jewel was remarkable for the delicacy of its setting, the discreteness of its clasp and the multiplicity of its functions (a necklace that can be converted into a brooch and a bracelet, a pendant that transforms into a pin). Though heralded by the Paris elite of the era, the exhibition was a short-lived success: WWII forced the celebrated couture house to close its doors. When the Maison Chanel reopened in 1954, diamonds had fallen to the wayside, overshadowed by fashion, perfumes, and the voluminous signature costume jewelry and baroque creations favored by the great couturiere.
In 1987, after asserting itself as a key player in the world luxury market, the Maison Chanel founded a watch division. A boutique dedicated to this new line of business was inaugurated on the chic Avenue Montaigne in Paris, presenting the stunning watch “Première” with a design inspired by the celebrated Chanel No.5 perfume bottle. Resolutely feminine, these timepieces set with diamonds enjoyed such a resounding success that in 1993, despite the sluggish economic context, Chanel brought back the jewelry collection designed in 1932. Comet necklaces, tiaras, bows, ribbons - Mademoiselle Chanel’s creations had not lost any of their appeal and soon became a craze. In 1997, Chanel refurbished the Hôtel de Cressart, located at number 18 on the prestigious Place Vendôme in Paris to create a showcase for its jewelry and timepiece collections.
For over ten years, the design division has continued to innovate while keeping with the spirit of the Maison’s founder, enabling Chanel Fine Jewelry to pursue its star-studded path. “Mademoiselle Chanel bequeathed her empire as well as her personal universe: a detail-oriented approach marked by boldness, fantasy and freedom that carried her to the heights of fame. Coco loved stars, diamonds, pearl and camellias. She was a Leo and loved the sun. Five was her lucky number. With such a broad range, it was simply a matter of selection for Chanel Fine Jewelry when it came to interpreting, in a consistent manner, the thousand and one facets of Mademoiselle’s legacy”, acknowledges Marie-Dominique Sassin, a journalist specializing in fine jewelry.
Intent on offering evermore beautiful showcases for its newest collections, the Maison Chanel regularly asks artists to imagine elegant ways to complement its jewelry collections. Graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude celebrated the Five Elements in 2001, while the following year designer Ingo Maurer conjured up a dreamy decor to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first jewelry collection. In 2005, visual artist and video director Xavier Veilhan designed the staging for the traveling exhibition entitled “Celestial Elements”. Launched in Taiwan in March, this cosmic exhibition will end its tour in Milan at the end of November, after stopovers in Paris, Tokyo and New York.