It’s 21 years since I first fell in love with the luxurious French beauty company Guerlain. This fact dawned on me last week, as I floated in and out of wakefulness during my first-ever experience of a Guerlain facial in my home country of Scotland – at the recently opened Guerlain Spa in The Caledonian, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in Edinburgh.
My first encounters with Guerlain all took place in its home town – of Paris. Back in 1992, I was a student living and working in one of the more upmarket suburbs to the south of the city. Having worked initially as an “assistante” (language assistant) in a lycée, I had decided to stay on for the summer and, having turned down offers of work at EuroDisney and The Hard Rock Cafe (both of which would have done my French language skills no good whatsoever), I found a job in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye branch of the costume jewellery shop Agatha.
My friend, Anne-Sophie, was already a Saturday girl there and she helped me land a summer stint as a salesgirl. At the same time, she provided me with a basic education in French beauty rituals…. in particular, her must-have make-up – Guerlain’s Les Meteorites. I had never seen anything like these little shimmering balls of coloured, Parma violet-scented powder, but Anne-Sophie swore by them – and her luminous complexion certainly made Les Meteorites seem like a worthwhile investment.
Once I was aware of Guerlain – brand-aware as the 20-year-olds of today might say – it seemed to become a recurring theme.. My boss, a feisty Spaniard who exuded a sultry sex appeal, always had a bottle of her signature scent, Jardins de Bagatelle, stashed behind the boutique’s counter; my first encounter with fake tan was Terracotta, as used by one of the other girls in the shop; evening strolls along the Champs-Elysees in the summer meant a chance to ogle the elegant Guerlain boutique at no68…. And so on. Guerlain was Paris. And Paris was Guerlain.
The summer after my stint in France ended, I returned to Paris for a holiday, but the year after that, I was working full-time as a journalist and couldn’t get away. In readiness for my first big assignment, I had my first-ever splurge in a department store beauty hall. I don’t remember planning it, but it was probably inevitable that I ended up at the Guerlain counter, buying a coral/red lipstick and matching nail varnish; a purchase which I now look back on as marking a sort of coming-of-age style-wise. It was the moment I started forging my own path – a path that has led me back time and again to Guerlain.
The house of Guerlain marks its 185th anniversary this year so to celebrate that, plus the recent opening of its first UK spa, at The Caledonian Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh, I’ll be running a series of articles on Guerlain this week – and at the time of the anniversary celebrations, in the autumn.