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Guerlain Aroma Allegoria Exaltant: Beauty in Perpetuity
Back in the 90s, I took a year-long class in herbalism with a teacher who frequently used the world “exaltation” when she took us out into the fields and forests to gather plants—particularly when we were making flower essences, which is not at all a perfumed essence, or even an herbal tincture, but a way of capturing the “vibrational imprint” of a flower. The vibration of the flower supposedly resonates with the person who uses it as a treatment (taken internally) to correct mental and emotional imbalances. I found it difficult to believe in the flower essences concept, but enjoyed the making of them anyway, and can still recall the specific instructions of our teacher, whose first rule was this: Only gather flowers from plants that are in a state of exaltation—in other words, at the very peak of their blooming cycle—because, to leave an imprint on a person, they must be at the height of their flowering expression.
Despite not being a believer in the essences, I’ve had a fondness for the word "exaltaton" ever since, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because a perfume friend from Denmark—the very classy Asali (guest writer at All I Am – A Redhead, Ines Stefanovic’s blog, and Ines’s partner-in-crime when it comes to sniffing out Paris’s best perfumes)—sent me a fragrance package which included a discontinued perfume from the house of Guerlain called Exaltant. Launched in either 2001 or 2002, Exaltant was one of a trio of perfumes belonging to what Jean-Paul Guerlain defined as his Aroma Allegoria line: fragrances built around natural ingredients chosen for their therapeutic effects of being either soothing or stimulating to the mind, but which were still very much in the vein of classic perfumes. Of the three, Exaltant—the French word for “exalting”—was created with the intention of being an olfactory intoxicant of the highest order. Warmth, sensuality and beauty at its fullest is what Jean-Paul Guerlain hoped to convey in Exaltant, and he succeeded with this gorgeous woody-oriental perfume that smells like sandalwood infused with candied cinnamon, floating like a fairytale ship on a sea of balsam and other spices.
While trying to find a list of notes for this perfume, I read a description on osMoz.com in which it is described as being voluptuous—and while I agree with that in certain regards, what I find most interesting about Exaltant is that it manages to be gorgeously spicy and warm while maintaining a lean character—even what I would call a calm character—and I think this is due to the amount of wood notes in this perfume. There’s not only creamy sandalwood, but also the evergreen woodiness of cypress and the dry, fruited-pepperiness of cedar. To my mind, the combination of these wood notes makes for a perfume that has a satiny depth that is distinctly different from the kind of depth one gets from a more amber-based Oriental. Ambery Orientals are glorious creations, but one can fatigue of their fat-bottomed, baroque beauty. Though more angular than pillowy, Exaltant is a resplendent and complex perfume: its woodiness is married to an almondy, marzipan-like sweetness and an exotic spiciness punctuated by cinnamon and, to a lesser degree, cardamom, while there’s enough tonka bean at its base to lend it some vanillic splendor, which is what one expects in the signature of a Guerlain perfume. My husband, without any prompting from me, says it makes him think of Christmas, and though I’m the type of person that would wear this perfume at any time of year (I love wearing a spicy Oriental in the heat of summer, when a surfeit of humidity adds a whole new dimension to an already three-dimensional perfume), I would agree that Exaltant smells festive in a way that puts one in mind of the winter holidays. This is not to suggest that it smells like a Christmas potpourri, but to say that it encapsulates the glowing warmth of the winter festival itself and the kind of spices one associates with that time of year.
Had Exaltant been constructed around a plump, ambery base, the fragrance would have had too much amplification, I think, resulting in the kind of monster spice perfume that brings to mind YSL Opium. (Not to cast aspersions on Opium; I’m only saying that the perfume world doesn’t need another imitation of that iconic fragrance.) After sampling Exaltant for many days and being impressed with the way it possesses both an elevated sense of beauty and a calm sense of equilibrium, the latter of which I’m attributing to the woody notes, I find it plausible that Jean-Paul Guerlain truly was intent on making a perfume with an aromachology aim to it—and not simply another Oriental perfume labeled in a creative way to lend it a certain marketing appeal. Whatever his intentions were, though, it hardly matters because the end result was that he created another fabulous Oriental perfume, period.
Perhaps if it had been advertised and marketed in a similar manner to Guerlain’s other trophy perfumes (like Shalimar and Jicky) it wouldn’t have been discontinued, though that, too, is hard to say. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that beauty does not make something immune from casualty—and the state of exaltation for anything is brief: blink and you will miss it.
But I also believe that true beauty never really dies. It might slip beneath the tides of consciousness for various reasons, but it will surface again.
How else to explain how a French perfume launched ten years ago, and discontinued not long thereafter, crossed the sea from Denmark to me, to be exalted in these pages?
Guerlain Aroma Allegoria Exaltant has top notes of bergamot, cypress, cinnamon and bitter orange; middle notes of Virginia cedar, neroli, cardamom and coriander; and base notes of vanilla, tonka bean, pepper and sandalwood. Though discontinued, bottles of it still surface on auction sites like Ebay.com.
Images: (top of page) illustration by Danish artist Kay Nielsen (1886-1957) for a story title "The Man Who Never Laughed." Nielsen once worked for Walt Disney but ended up living the last years of his life in poverty and dying in obscurity. His work went unrecognized for many years.
Bottle photo of Guerlain Exaltant is from Fragrantica.com.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 1/18/2012.
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