31 Days of Iris and Day Three: Après l’Ondée

Après l’Ondée, is hands, down my most complemented perfume. It always makes women smile, ask me what I am wearing, where I got it, how to spell
It, and if it’s at Macy’s or eUlta. Whenever I wear it, men actually follow me down the street and sometimes ask some of the same questions. It has the effect that, I suppose, many people (e.g., not crazy perfume addict connoisseur collector obsessives) look for when they imagine The Perfect Perfume. I don’t wear perfume to attract the attention of strangers, but I understand that lots of civilian users want that, so I think it’s
Important to begin with this observation.

Which is astonishing for a perfume that has been around for over a century, from a venerable house whose more recent attempts at (to borrow a word the kids use all over the Interweb there days) relevance have been met with mostly limited success, in the form of masstige flanker generators or 500 dollar plus exclusifs that the company 86s just when they start to catch on. Sometimes, I honestly believe Guerlain’s LVMH corporate Chèfs are trying to kill their best perfume house—after all, it would probably save them a ton of money, and also allow them to pump out more Dior Sauvage, overpriced handbags and cognac—not a bad strategy, although they would have us perfume addict connoisseur collector obsessives to contend with if they actually tried it.

That brings me back to Après l’Ondée. I was warned, before I bought my fairly recent bottle of EDT (nu skool standard Guerlain bee bottle), that, to be blunt, it sucks now—it doesn’t smell the same, or even smell good, and also that it lasts about 15 minutes on your skin if you’re lucky. I am happy to report that none of this is true.

Smelling recent Al’O next to my tiny precious vintage parfum sample shows that Guerlain made three obvious changes to its formula, in response to IRFA. The two ingredients that IFRA found objectionable were the spicy clove that gave the original its zing and Al’O’s signature heliotropin. With a reduction in both, a third change follows, that Extrait with its higher concentrations of everything, would no longer be an option. I can’t write any more about that part, or I will spend the rest of my evening crying instead of finishing this already very late blog post

What Guerlain did with Après l’Ondee is actually very clever. It now contains an almost imperceptible but thematically brilliant aquatic component, that successfully conveys fresh dewiness. It has a deliciously silky texture that reminds me of the wonderful blending base (musk? Such a loaded word) used in modern Ormonde Jayne fragrances. And the perfume’s signature iris, herbs, violet, and a mellow almond accord probably based in whatever heliotrope it still contains, it smells delightful—fresh, its herbs marvelously redolent of the outdoors, its violets equally evocative of spring meadows, elegant and understated rather than candied or nitrile-chewed tinfoil-metallic. I think the orange blossom significantly less sweet, leaving only a trace of delicate but zesty citrus. Current Après also preserves the original’s mysterious side, the shadowy dark greens and purples lurking in the sunniest garden, and the bitterness of the original’s much prominent carnation accord.

Even in its edt formula, A l’O preserves a hint of ambery warmth that interprets rets tinctured orris’s hint of resinesque sweetness. An initial spray reveals this underused aspect of orris, while its unmistakable smooth and buttery texture smooths across the skin.. A tangle of Herbs de Provence follows, plus a distinctive green lemon-anise accord that always reminds me of tarragon (not technically Herbs de Provence, I just learned), with a pinpoint of relaxing lavender, a little touch of pungent marjoram, and even a bit of piney rosemary, all calibrated to ground the scent in Guerlain’s Grande Cologne heritage, a balance made possible by iris’s superb blending qualities—like dairy butter in cooking, it harmonizes sometimes unlikely ingredients into an irresistible, delicious, new whole, not only via butter’s native deliciousness, but also because it smooths out any potentially clashing flavors—or aromas—and augments it all with its inimitable rich smoothness. Orris accomplishes all this in Aprés l’Ondée—its prismatic exploration of orris’ myriad but subtle aromatic qualities, and its generous use of the same material to harmonize the perfume’s contrasting materials and ensure smooth transitions. It speaks to Guerlain’s commitment to using excellent ingredients, at least where it counts.

Aprés was not Guerlain’s first dedicated feminine fragrance (Jicky had and still has no intended gender), but it was its first feminine masterpiece. Guerlain might have done some of its classics dirty in recent times, but I think Après l’Omdee survived through its obscurity. Guerlain’s refusal to consistently offer their classics in most department stores has likely kept production needs minimized, which in turn allows a relatively generous budget for a perfume with an undoubtedly high cost for its raw goods. Ironically, its freshness, relatively low olfactory, and “musky” herbal profile, and its lack of aggressive powder, greens, or recognizable or indolic florals, would probably appeal to young perfume customers at whom designers are flinging chemical jasmine (the abomination that is Dior’s Joy), unnaturally persistent metallic water (Gucci Guilty and Miu Miu’s eponymous debut), Eau Rose flankers (not even going to belabor this point with more), and well composed but unmemorable fruitchoulia and gourmands. And I will not even start about Light Blue, the popularity of which makes me feel despondent about the fate of the entire human race. From the way people behave when I wear it, I think it could be massive, but not at its current quality. Or maybe I’m just that cute, but I don’t think that’s it, because I don’t get the same reaction, even when I’m wearing scents about which I would expect at least an occasional query.

I suppose that Après l’Ondée has a special alchemy that even the greatest perfume houses only occasionally manage. It brings together the nature hike and the dressing table, gardening clogs and marabou-trimmed negligée, a glass encased hothouse and garrigue-covered hillsides. Its universal nature elements are still unmistakably French, as French as a fresh baguette toted on a bicycle pedaled by a gamine young thing wearing red lipstick and a matelot top, or a heavily mustachioed gent smoking a Gitane (same sailor’s top, natch, and that Gitane could be parked on that impeccable red lip). French as a pastis taken at a zinc bar. French as street crêpes, prime time talk shows that host university philosophy professors, French as a cold Normandy wind on a barren beach or a balmy Niçoise breeze blowing across pebble beaches.

And that’s it with the stereotypes. What matters, especially for this now rambling blog post, is that Après was possibly the first great iris perfume, and certainly the oldest great one in continuous production for well over a century. If it has changed, it has changed with the times. Its periodic rumors of discontinuation, and the panic they inspire, prove its well-deserved iconic status. I am not sorry it is hard to pronounce and even harder to find through most traditional retail channels.

So there is plenty to go around for the rest of us. It’s the Queen Mum of an entire family of perfumes, from Guerlain’s daughter perfume L’Heure Bleue to Prada’s recent Infusion d’Iris Absolue. Unlike many of the vintage classics it inspired, it wears as well today as ever and I feel confident stating that it is probably my de facto signature perfume—certainly one of my top ten favorites, and the perfume I reach for on job interviews, anniversary dates, doctor’s appointments when I don’t want to suffocate the entire office or a tiny exam room, and my birthday. If I were single, I would also deploy it for those special times when a lady needs a foolproof ensemble, scent included, guaranteed to attract the attention of my intended pull for the evening. Every time I wear it, I find myself wondering why I wear anything else. Not bad at all for a scent pushing 118 years.

Après l’Ondée’s reputation as weak, short-lived, watery, and ruined is undeserved. I’ll flog this horse again—perfumes, especially classic perfumes made with relatively large amounts of natural materials, require aging time. My bottle of EDT from about seven or eight years back has significantly increased in complexity, density, and longevity since I first purchased it. I don’t have to overspray to make it stick or smell perceptible to someone in close proximity. Niche houses charge four to ten times for perfumes with this quality of ingredients; I suppose economy of scale and long standing relationships have helped Guerlain keep its prices extraordinarily reasonable.

There are not many perfumes I own that I recommend without a single reservation, but this is one of them. It has enough delicacy and traditional floral accords that it’s a very easy wear for someone with traditional feminine tastes, but its herbs and lavender work extraordinarily well on masculine skin and for those whose fragrant tastes run in a more traditionally masculine direction, especially if you want something elegant for evening that doesn’t have the heavy formality of dressier “manly” scents. I honestly believe it doesn’t have a gender, and that everyone should have a bottle of this in their wardrobe. It is not hard to find, and I hope this post will encourage skeptics to consider adding it to their wardrobe.

Also, if you have some vintage parfum you are willing to part with, even just a few millilitres, please consider contacting me. I’ll pay.

5 Silver-lilac matte colored stars, and two square-manicured matching thumbs up.
Go. Buy. Wear.

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Well-known member
Mar 3, 2020
Note: I thought I published this last night, but Basenotes’ blog function has a word limit, and I went over it by about 800 characters. This is a redacted version, but for the most part, it’s still all there. No point in being too precious about my prose—I just want to get these things done, and done on time

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