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Guerlain: All About Beauty

1. Boutique ExteriorThe Arc de Triomphe is not the only cherished landmark on the magnificent Champs-Elysees. No.68 avenue des Champs-Elysees has, for generations, been a celebrated address for Parisians; an exquisitely elegant listed building which is a mecca for admirers of fine fragrance and lovers of luxury beauty products and treatments. This, you see, is the location of La Maison Guerlain, the oldest existing beauty house, which is currently celebrating its 185th anniversary.

For almost two centuries, Guerlain has been synonymous with the ideals of French beauty and allure. And it has retained its position as one of the leading perfume, cosmetics and skincare brands in the world without having the image of a fashion brand to bolster its identity. Unlike Chanel, Givenchy and Dior, Guerlain didn’t begin life as a couture house which diversified into beauty; it has been all about beauty – and, in particular, fragrance – from day one.

The founder of this French institution was Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain, who was born in Picardy in 1798, during the final days of the revolution. His father was a spice merchant and pewter potter, but it was as a sales assistant in the perfume house Briard that the young Guerlain found employment when he left home at the age of 19. This first job involved demonstrating and selling cosmetic products (precursors to today’s blushers, lipsticks and foundations), and this apprenticeship continued in two further beauty companies before he left for three years to study botany, chemistry and soap-making in England, then a hotbed for research in the fields of perfume, beauty products and toiletries.

In 1828, when he was only 30 years of age, Guerlain opened his first boutique, at 42 rue de Rivoli, the arcade-lined street at the very heart of Paris. The site was shared with the Hotel Meurice, then a favourite of the British upper classes. Guerlain began his business by importing fashionable products from Britain, but he was soon developing his own, original formulas for toilet waters, soaps, creams, pomades, perfume oils and perfumed essences for handkerchiefs. These were very popular with the British aristocracy, not least Queen Victoria for whom the perfume Bouquet de la Reine Victoria was created.

Before long, the Guerlain boutique was the “in” place and no fashionable Parisienne’s dressing table was complete without a jar of Creme a la Fraise (Strawberry Creme) to lighten the complexion or Creme de Perse (Persian Creme) to soften the hands. Her maquillage would also have included one of Ne m'oubliez pasGuerlain’s innovative lip tints – Liquid Rose Extract, which was sold from the mid-19th century until 1958; Roselip, a solid lip colour in a porcelain pot, or, from the 1870s, the world’s first lipstick in a tube – Ne m’oubliez pas (Don’t Forget Me).

By the time the Guerlain boutique had relocated to the rue de la Paix in the 1840s, royal commissions were beginning to flood in and Pierre-Francois-Pascal’s fragrances were all the rage in many of the European courts.

One of Guerlain’s greatest coups was being appointed official perfumer to the Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, in 1853. He had impressed the empress with the zesty Eau de Cologne Imperiale which he had made specially for her. Legend has it that it gave her unhoped-for relief from the migraines that troubled her. The cologne is still sold today, and in the same distinctive bee-embossed bottle (the bee being a reference to the imperial coat of arms).

The founder of the house of Guerlain died in 1864 and his eldest son Aime took over as the firm’s perfumer. He continued in his father’s pioneering footsteps, creating, in 1889, the perfume which is generally credited with ushering in the age of modern perfumery. Jicky broke ground by blending synthetic materials with natural ingredients. Its fresh top notes of lavender, bergamot and rosemary, its spicy heart and creamy, warm base (which is where the new synthetic vanilla made its impact) were different to anything that had gone before and it was men who tended to buy it in its early years.

FROM THE CREATION of Jicky onwards, the history of Guerlain is also the history of modern perfumery. Aime’s nephew, Jacques, was responsible for almost 400 scents, among them an incredible succession of legendary fragrances regarded as wonders of the perfume world. These included the fresh yet heady L’Heure Bleue (1912), Mitsouko (1919), which is one of the most celebrated and influential early examples of the chypre genre, and Shalimar (1925), the exotic perfume which sired the entire oriental family of fragrances.

Jacques’s grandson, Jean-Paul, who retired in 2002, continued the Guerlain tradition of innovation with such gems as the archetypal fresh, green scent La Maison Guerlain Heritage VisualChamade (1969), which was the first perfume to make use of blackcurrant buds, and the sensuous oriental Samsara (1989).

Like its home city of Paris, Guerlain treats its heritage with the greatest of respect. With its Art Deco counters and original marble walls, the ground floor boutique on the Champas-Elysees has changed little in the 94 years since it opened and the third floor spa is as discreet and luxurious as when it began catering to Parisiennes’ “soins de beaute” in 1938.

But, since 2005, no visit to 68 avenue des Champs-Elysees would be complete without a trip up the luminous, gold-tiled stairway to the revamped first floor where the very contemporary Espace Parfum offers the chance to explore just about the entire back catalogue of Guerlain greatest hits as well as such current chart-toppers as La Petite Robe Noire, Idylle and Insolence – and even, for true perfume obsessives, the opportunity to have your own signature scent created just for you. If luxury is timeless, Guerlain will have no trouble notching up another 185 years.

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The Lipstick Renaissance

This is the year of the lipstick. After all, so far this spring we’ve seen new lipsticks being launched by Estee Lauder (Pure Color), No7 (their new Poppy King range), Clarins (Rouge Hydra Nude), Dior Addict and Guerlain (Rouge Automatique). Chanel’s creative director of make-up, Peter Philips, continued on his mission to convert girls to the lipstick cause by launching the glossy Rouge Coco Shine…. Lipstick is having a moment, as they say in fashion-ville; though for many of us it’s never gone out of style.

After all, it’s difficult to resist the way a slick of lipstick can lift the spirits by brightening the smile. Not only that, but lipstick is a shortcut to glamour and can instantly transform the appearance in a way that no other single item can. Gwyneth Paltrow summed up the powerful effect of lipstick when she said: “Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”

For the millions of women who have bought Chanel lipsticks since they were first sold in 1924, owning one of those little black tubes is an affordable way of sharing in the luxury and elegance of the brand – and of keeping up with the latest trends. The same goes for Dior, Tom Ford, Armani and the other beauty brands which belong to fashion houses.

The history of the lipstick as a staple of our beauty routine stretches back to the ancient civilsations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, when both sexes painted their lips using such natural dyes as carmine, which is made from ground-up insects, or sheep’s blood. By the 16th century, women were following Queen Elizabeth I’s penchant for prettifying her pout by colouring her lips with cochineal paint (made from beetles), while their great-great-grand-daughters, a hundred years later, favoured creams that were made with black grape juice.

But it wasn’t always a smooth ride for the early incarnations of lipstick. In the 18th century, it was banned – along with other cosmetics – by Parliament (which associated it with witches), and it was dismissed as “impolite” by Queen Victoria in the 19th.

Of course, back then, lip colour came in little pots or, in the case of Liquid Bloom of Roses, which was imported from England by the founder of the Parisian beauty house Guerlain, in a little bottle. Monsieur Guerlain soon changed its formula and created Liquid Rose Extract “for lip colour with great staying power that lasts through meals”. It continued to sell until 1958.

Guerlain was also responsible for the very first modern-day lipstick, made with a wax base in 1870. Ne m’oubliez pas was its name and it came in a refillable container with a “push-up” mechanism. The first swivel-up tube was patented in 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee, and 13 years later Guerlain created the Rouge Automatique – which it has recently revived – a lipstick with no cap, that can be applied using just one hand: perfect for the girl on the go, who can’t take her eyes or fingers off her phone as she does her lippie.

And it’s not just the design of the containers and the formulation of the lipsticks that have changed over the years; the colours have come in and gone out of fashion. The most enduringly popular lipstick colour is undoubtedly red, since it’s a dramatic variation on the natural colour of the lips.

Deep, dark red became popular in the late teens and early 1920s when such sexy silent movie stars as the “It” Girl, Clara Bow  and the vampy seductress Theda Bara (right, as Cleopatra in 1917) wore it – anything lighter wouldn’t have shown up in black and white. Not only did they kick off the fashion for red and scarlet lips, but Clara Bow also ignited the trend for “bee-stung” lips, the style of applying the lipstick so that it exaggerates the centre of the lips.

During the 1940s, lipstick was harder to come by because essential ingredients, such as petroleum were unavailable. In Britain, production of cosmetics almost completely ground to a halt and women swapped tips on how to make their own lip tints using beetroot juice or by melting down the stubs of old lipsticks. No7 lipsticks, many of which hadn’t been available during the war, made a comeback in 1949 with a range that included several variations on red.

Indeed, red remained the lipstick shade of choice for Hollywood stars and would-be glamour pusses well into the 1950s, the decade when Revlon launched its iconic Fire and Ice shade, which returned to shops late last year. As the 1950s went on, the pinks and corals shades introduced by Christian Dior also became popular across the world. But the biggest, most radical change in lipstick fashions took place in the early 1960s – and it was all down to one woman: Elizabeth Taylor, who died last month.

Elizabeth Taylor’s services to lipstick should have earned her an award. Not only did she show, in the famous lipstick-on-the-mirror sequence in her movie Butterfield 8, how handy the cosmetic could be in those moments when you find yourself without pen and paper and have to leave an urgent message for your lover, but she also set a new trend in make-up fashion when she starred in the infamous and extravagant epic Cleopatra, which finally came out in 1963 after being in production for two years.

Liz Taylor’s exotic make-up when she played the Egyptian queen may have borne some resemblance – at least in terms of the elaborate eye decoration – to images of the real Cleopatra, but it was also designed to show off her exquisitely beautiful face, and in particular those famous almond-shaped, violet-coloured eyes. All emphasis was placed on the eyes, and her lips were kept light-coloured – in pale corals and pinks – throughout the film.

The effect of this bold eyed, pale-lipped look was sensational. Revlon picked up on it immediately and launched the Cleopatra collection (including “Sphinx Pink” lipstick), which offered a watered-down version of the Liz-as-Cleo look. Andy Warhol later said that Cleopatra was the single-most influential film in terms of style in the 1960s: it certainly launched the make-up trend which defined the 1960s – and it’s a look which is still popular today.

Of course, these days, anything goes lipstick wise – you can work a 1960s, Cleopatra-inspired look one day; a shiny red 1950s Hollywood pout the next and a vampy dark 1920s one at night – and there are any amount of colours, textures and finishes to choose from.

There is a lipstick for everyone – for those who want a signature colour to see them through the ups and downs of life to those who want to stay bang on trend and are currently replacing nude shades with brights for summer. After all, changing you lipstick is the cheapest way to immediately update your look.. Not for nothing did Max Factor advertise its Color Fast lipsticks, way back in the 1950s, with the strapline: “High fashion for every woman’s lips.”

But the last word on lipstick in the 2010s should really go to the American comic Jerry Seinfeld, who once said: “Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not colour, but to accept God’s final word on where your lips end.”

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