1889, EdC 1945, PdT 1987
[ʒi'ki] Dirty lavender on sweet hay
Period: The Belle Époque years Jicky collection
In 1889, Paris exhibited three impressive constructions that proved the world was new, inventive and daring: the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, and Jicky. Created for the Exposition Universelle by Aimé Guerlain and bearing his 15-year-old nephew Jacques' nickname, Jicky is the world's oldest proper perfume in continuous production yet still today considered by many as being one of the greatest, a semi-oriental fougère. Now an institution, then a pioneer, it was the first of the modern "abstract" fragrances marked by depth, strength and notes quite alien for the time. Aimé Guerlain got the idea of dressing a traditional bouquet of Provençal herbs (lavender, rosemary, thyme) with three of the earliest synthetic fragrance compounds: linalool (spicy and warm rosewood odour), vanillin (vanilla odour) and coumarin (hay-almond-marzipan odour), the latter under influence of Houbigant's innovative Fougère Royale from 1882. At the time of the industrial revolution, synthetics were an exciting invention, and not regarded as something cheap like today. Aimé Guerlain added balsamic opoponax and strong animal notes of civet and musk which here joined the heavier facet of lavender and the lingering creaminess of sandalwood. A dash of jasmine and rose and a good dose of bergamot and minty-rosy geranium finally lifted it all up and made it shine. The scent was boldly called Jicky (for which, according to Guerlain, there was a bittersweet love story, apart from the nickname of Jacques. Jicky was the diminutive of Jacqueline, an English girl whom Aimé during his chemistry studies had fallen in love with but could not have due to the disapproval of her family. He created Jicky many years later, reportedly for the memory of his great love). The perfume Jicky might seem like an elementary lavender fragrance, but on closer acquaintance it was complex, architectural, indefinable, and rich in the tiniest detail. Cool and tonic yet sweet, spontaneous yet profound, spicy but softly powdery, both innocent and animalic, it expressed a beautiful, seamless symmetry between mademoiselle and harlot. Of all its components, coumarin was perhaps the most interesting, due both to its historic newness in the lab and to its crucial role in Jicky's formula. Coumarin is a natural isolate found in tonka bean and in several grasses and plants. Albeit overall sweet-smelling, it has in higher concentrations a biting undertone reminiscent of bitters and petrol, or even glue. This aspect was very present in Jicky, usually striking the novice as odd before settling into a state of pleasurable dependence. The gourmand base of Jicky is what perfumery has termed amber. Jicky was the antidote to all prior flower-scented waters, coinciding with the beginnings of modern art where the faithful reproduction of nature gave way to impressions of light. Jicky, too, was an abstract creation that appealed to the nose on many levels, not just one, and it initiated the "emotive perfumery", a whole new attitude among perfumers who would from now on try to evoke feelings instead of copying flowers. Because it married fresh herbs with sensual sweetness, and natural notes with synthetics, Jicky is in retrospect referred to as a "bridge scent", a link between the nineteenth century's hesperidic colognes and the deep oriental perfumes of the twentieth, and a sort of intermediary explanation of how Guerlain came from Eau de Cologne Impériale to Shalimar. In fact, Jicky smelled as if Eau de Cologne Impériale, with its citrus oils, lavender, verbena and rosemary, were poured into a mixture of amber and animal materials. It sounds simple, and maybe it was (we remember Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain's historic admonishment, "always stick to simple ideas and apply them scrupulously"), but the effect was phenomenal and has been used by Guerlain ever since. All Guerlain perfumes after Jicky have followed the same basic scheme, later called the Guerlinade, of citrus, Provençal herbs, rose, jasmine, amber and animal notes. Considering its very advanced age, it's staggering how relevant Jicky still is to perfumery, an ideal of imagination, balance, drydown technology, and grace. When Jicky first appeared, many women did not accept or understand it — the hint of "unclean" odour was too brutal and unexpected back in those days, and it started the reputation of Guerlain as ambassador of French sexiness, for courtesans rather than for ladies. In fact, men were the first to appreciate Jicky, and it wasn't until 1912 that women's magazines began to sing its praises. By then, Guerlain had become known as a "brainy" house, perceptive and poetic. Today, Aimé Guerlain is acclaimed mainly for this single perfume whose olfactory harmony without his knowing was to lay the ground for the influential oriental category of fragrances and define the entire Guerlain style, a style of perfumery as confectionary art, later called the Guerlinade. Read more about the Guerlinade ▶
Bottle. Jicky originally came in the so-called square bottle, a standard bottle inspired by medicine jars. It's now sold in the quadrilobe bottle which was initially made for the perfume Rue de la Paix in 1908. The stopper of this bottle looks like a quatrefoil ("quadrilobe" in French) or a champagne cork. The green velvet box and its flowing, plant-like decoration is distinctly Art Nouveau. In the 1930s, Jicky was to be had in the cobalt-blue lantern bottle a.k.a. "the new Jicky bottle".
Parfum, EdT, PdT. Multifaceted and subtle, Jicky shows a somewhat different portrait in each of its concentrations. The Parfum, with its focus on the base notes, is smooth and deep, at moments strangely unassuming like the milky skin of a baby, at others warmly carnal as a woman's body. The EdT is much more open and zippy up top, lightheartedly emanating citrus-soaked purple lavender, herbs and tonka bean, a delicious mixture of sweet pastry and all the smells of Southern France in the summer. If one wants an all-in-one Jicky, the choice is PdT which has every part fully represented and given off in delectable succession, with extra sandalwood and the spicier of the three.
Reformulation. Given the fact that Jicky was invented along with the automobile and the light bulb, it's no surprise it hasn't stayed exactly the same. Vintage Jicky was Guerlain's finest example of the use of sandalwood oil in a perfume, glowing and slightly earthy, and Luca Turin remembers the Jicky of his childhood as "raunchier, more curvaceous, less stately" — all those turbid, spicy and leathery materials are no longer available to the perfumer. Jicky is now undeniably politer. A side effect of the tidying up is lower tenacity, an oft-heard complaint about today's Jicky.
Recommended: Parfum or PdT from the late 1980s.
Cool as the flesh of children.
Probably the world's first unisex.
Family: semi-oriental, fougère. Notes: bergamot, lemon, tangerine, lavender, rosemary, thyme, geranium, rose, jasmine, tonka bean, rosewood, orris, vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, civet, musk, opopanax.
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1889, EdC 1945, PdT 1987