A royal ol-factory
WRY BREAD - Philip Cu-Unjieng () - April 5, 2009 - 12:00am

In 1828, when Pierre Guerlain created his Eau de Cologne Imperiale, Empress Eugenie was so taken by the scent that she conferred upon the Maison Guerlain the imperial ranking of Her Majesty’s Official Perfumer. It is this kind of legacy and impeccable tradition that Guerlain continues to live up to. At its 68 Champs Elysees, Paris flagship store, we find three levels dedicated to the ultimate in perfume, beauty and the Art of Living. The older bottles of the House were designed by Raymond Guerlain and Baccarat, while Robert Granai has taken on those chores since 1975; and it happens quite often that the House collaborates with other noted designers and design studios to continue to create something that is fresh and impactful. For 2009, two new scents hit the market, fragrances that really emanate, quality, class, style and the high life.

The new variant of the Ladies’ fragrance Insolence is a Eau Glacee — literally translating to icy liquid fragrance, it’s described as a “perfumed ice cube.” There’s a gravity-defying bottle as only Guerlain designs them, connoting mischief and naughtiness. With notes of violet petals, berries and iris, along with citrus zest, apple granite and white musk, the fragrance is predominantly floral, with a fruity overcast, and it is the cooling “glacee” effect that makes this new variant such a standout. Hilary Swank is the image model for the scent. She is someone who knows what she wants, has a streak of independence and non-conformity, yet is recognized for her achievement and singular version of unconventional beauty — all attributes the fragrance would like to convey.

For Men, the new scent in the market is the Guerlain Homme. Basically aromatic and woody, there’s a fresh, subtle floral note, and the fragrance is described as inspired by the mojito cocktail. The citrus element is provided by the sweet lime, pelargonium and bergamot, while the green tea, mint, rhubarb, cedar wood, sugarcane, rum and vetiver supply the green woody note, and exemplify that salute to the mojito. There’s a strong metal touch to the bottle, and coupled with the heavy glass, it’s very architectural in concept, kudos to the Pininfarina Design Studio for this particular execution. L’Instant is still my absolute favorite in the Guerlain line of Male fragrances, but this Homme is a very worthy addition.

Of women and a dark stranger

The world of Frank Lloyd Wright is seen through a prism of ladies in TC Boyle’s The Women; and in Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, it’s the contemporary situation of the Third World running up smack against the First World. The last years of Charles Dickens is vividly imagined through the introduction of a dark, sinister stranger in Dan Simmon’s Drood. Insightful, full of depth and wonderfully written, these three novels are proud additions to the canons of the three writers.

The Women by T.C. Boyle (available at National Bookstore): After recreating the world and life of cereal giant John Harvey Kellogg in the Road to Wellville, and that of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, TC Boyle trains his sights on famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his new novel, The Women. Famous for his womanizing as well as his architecture, Wright is “dissected” via the women in his life. First wife Kitty, Mamah who was tragically murdered, Miriam, and Olgivanna — they all help us understand just how mercurial a figure Wright was. My favorite anecdote has Wright being asked his profession during a civil case. He replies, “Architect, the world’s greatest!” And when the judge retorts how can he make that claim, Wright says, “Well, Your Honor, I am under oath.” While this is a novel, Boyle takes great pains in using what can be found in the factual record, embellishing and attempting to get into their minds.

Drood by Dan Simmons (available at National Bookstore): Written as memoirs of The Moonstone author Wilkie Collins, this novel is a brazen attempt to unlock the mystery behind the last years of Charles Dickens. A blend of mystery and historical fiction, there is a lot of conjecture in this novel, but to Simmon’s credit, he makes this Victorian world come vividly to life. Returning from a French holiday with his mistress, Dickens is involved in a railway accident and there meets the malevolent Drood. Master criminal, mystery figure, denizen of London’s underworld, Drood insinuates himself into the lives of Dickens and Collins, with alarming consequences. Opium and laudanum addiction, lime pits where bodies and bones disappear without a trace, mesmerism and possible cannibalism — they’re all elements of a labyrinthine storyline that never fails to excite, while it unravels. At close to 800 pages, this is a long summer read.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (available at National Bookstore): The bitter irony of globalization is one of the over-riding themes of this second novel by Chris Cleave (his first was the highly controversial Incendiary, whose plotline had an eerie similarity to the 2005 London bombings, which happened the same day his book was released). This time out, one narrator is Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee, who we meet just as she’s about to “escape” from a detention center in England. The second narrator is Sarah, wife to Andrew, a young couple who encountered Little Bee when they were on holiday in Lagos. There’s a shocking incident that happened that day in Nigeria, and it is slowly revealed to us, our curiosity piqued by Andrew committing suicide when Little Bee calls him upon leaving the center. There’s desperation and hopelessness, with amazing shafts of humor, thanks to how Cleave creates Bee’s character.

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