Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Guerlain Attrape Coeur eau de parfum can occasionally be found on the online auction sites (and samples can be purchased from some of the online decanters, like My review is based on a decant sent to me by perfume blogger and true-blue “Guerlain girl” Asali.

Photo of actress Isabella Rossellini as Gabriella from the 1996 motion picture Big Night is from

Photo of Guerlain Attrape Coeur bottle is from Australian eBay.

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August 11, 2012:

Perfume and a Movie: Guerlain Attrape Coeur and Big Night

One of the fragrances I wore while vacationing last week at the beach was Attrape Coeur (French for “heart-catcher”), a discontinued beauty from the house of Guerlain. Wearing it in that setting, and coupled with the fragrance’s retro vibe, I found myself reflecting on the 1996 film Big Night, about two Italian immigrant brothers trying (and failing) to succeed at business in 1950s America, with their restaurant located in a small town on the New Jersey shore. While the film is a favorite among “foodies,” its true appeal lies in its poignant examination of personal relationships caught in the strain of competing values: Old World authenticity and refinement versus New World reinvention and commercialism. At their restaurant named Il Paradiso, brothers Primo and Secondo serve up authentic Italian cuisine, quite exquisitely prepared, but their potential customers are all going to the restaurant across the street, Pascal’s, where “Americanized” Italian dishes and a side order of entertainment have ’em lining up on the sidewalk to get in. From the start of the film, it’s clear that Il Paradiso hasn’t been doing well for awhile and is about to fold—and evident too that while younger brother Secondo is anxious to make changes to the restaurant which would earn them a clientele, brother Primo is a traditionalist and the kind of culinary artist who would rather starve than pander to crass American tastes. The film largely pivots around their relationship, but also their relationships with their love interests, particularly Secondo’s two women. Secondo (played by Stanley Tucci) is dating the sweet and lovely Phyllis (Minnie Driver) while sleeping on the side with Gabriella (Isabella Rossellini), who happens to be the mistress of his competitor, Pascal.

It’s in thinking about these two women that the subject of Attrape Coeur surfaces. I often like to find a character in film or literature who personifies the perfume I’m wearing—and in the case of Attrape Coeur, the most fitting character for me is European-sexy Gabriella. She’s a heart-catcher and probably a heart-breaker as well, making her the ideal personification for this perfume, which, when it was created by perfume Mathilde Laurent in 1999, was originally named Guet-Apens (French for “ambush”). How is it that Gabriella manages to steal the true affections of Secondo away from the younger Phyllis, who is no slouch herself and who is eager to engage in some physical intimacy with the man she’s been dating? I’ll attempt to answer that question by the end of the review, but for now let’s take a closer look at this perfume.

By turns, Attrape Coeur is bewitchingly seductive and softly sweet. Like Isabella Rossellini’s Gabriella, it possesses a body that is womanly, a facet of personality that is girlishly charming, and a face that is beautiful and has a sophisticated whiff of the cosmetic about it.

The fragrance notes commonly listed for Attrape Coeur are rose, violet, iris, vanilla, woods and amber, but peach and oakmoss, too, are often mentioned by reviewers. To my nose, the perfume has three distinct stages as it unfolds on the skin, and in the first one Attrape Coeur is largely occupied by a cool yet creamy iris note, its coolness accentuated by dusky violet and its creaminess enhanced by the richness of sandalwood. After five or ten minutes of wear-time arrives the second stage, in which a dewy rose note joins in and the scent becomes glamorously cosmetic. Overall the perfume at this stage smells lightly powdery, prettily sweet, and naughtily musky—reminding me of a scene in which Gabriella lies in bed in a black slip, looking curvy and seductive and speaking to Secondo in her native Italian. The scene is brief (all of her scenes are brief), and yet she manages to captivate with her range of emotions that go from caring and kittenish to teasing and pouting when, roused from her post-coital nap by her anxious and hurried lover, she tries to get him to linger.

In its final stage, Attrape Coeur presents a lightly vanillic, amber base that is more dry and diffuse than the typical Guerlinade base, no doubt due to a healthy amount of real oakmoss. Attrape Coeur in its drydown reminds me of Gabriella when she is at Pascal’s, where we see her in the role of hostess and, when bumping into Secondo there, she is charming and smooth but with a breezy professionalism that doesn’t allude to any secrets.

Like the food that is served up at Il Paradiso on the Big Night (the night in which the brothers hope to save their restaurant by hosting a dinner party for famous jazz singer Louis Prima), the perfume Attrape Coeur is a complex and masterfully blended piece of art. And like Isabella Rossellini in the role of Gabriella, it speaks of European sophistication—of that irresistible mix of wit, cunning, charm and polish.

Which at last brings me to the reason why I think Gabriella manages to capture the affection of Secondo in a way that Phyllis doesn’t. Though some would argue that Secondo can’t commit to Phyllis because of his impotence as a businessman, my feeling is that, as much as he longs to succeed in America and embrace its freedoms and rewards, he doesn’t want to fully relinquish the Old World beauty and artistry that is his heritage. Gabriella speaks Secondo’s native language, literally and figuratively, and thereby catches his heart. Attrape Coeur succeeds in a similar fashion with perfume lovers like me who long for a certain connection to that heritage too.

(Or at least it did until Guerlain was forced to discontinue it. Like it or not, we are living in a new world where governing bodies impose regulations and restrictions on perfume ingredients and everything else.)