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Lui – A true Him/Her beauty from Guerlain – November 5, 2017

Guerlain Lui bottle, re-designed "tea caddy" 1929 Guerlain bottle

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I’ve learned to skip over perfume marketing hype. I wrote about Odin 09 Posala few years ago, a truly unusual floral with fruit tones and an earthy leathery smokiness from tobacco and benzoin. It belongs to a collection of fragrances by Odin New York, a menswear retailer boldly self-described by the two owners, Eddy Chai and Paul Birardi as “one of the first lifestyle stores dedicated to men”. Really? The first in New York? Maybe the first on that block on that street in New York! I laughed when I read the marketing hype, but it was a different story when I finally got to try the Odin fragrance collection.

I fell for Odin 09 Posala just seconds after I took the cap off the tester and spritzed the back of my hand. Wham! Right into my brain! This fragrance has what I call the ”art part”, that special odd note or combination of notes that makes a fragrance transcend the sum of its components and which, if they weren’t included, would make it smell merely good, nice, or wearable. The “art part” is the olfactory magic created by the perfumer, and the perfumer who created Odin 09 Posala is Delphine Jelk.

We stopped by the Guerlain on Bloor Street a couple of months ago so I could finally buy Jicky parfum. I’d been dreaming about it, my birthday was coming up, and it was time to make this dream come true! We were greeted by enthusiastic staff who insisted we try the brand-new Exclusive Collections release, Lui. We listened politely to the their marketing spiel, how Lui** was “about the idea of a universal perfume… a fragrance for a new gender order, created to be free from the norms of gender…a combination of male and female…created with an ambiguous fragrance trail…based on benzoin…alternately floral, powdery, spicy or woody…”.

It crossed my mind that this wasn’t news for Guerlain, they’ve been creating non-gendered, ambiguous scents for almost two centuries, many of which I love and wear frequently, such as JickyShalimarMitsoukoHabit Rouge EdPHeritage, VetiverDerby, Vol de Nuit. But I’m always up for something new so I held out my hand for a spritz, and wouldn’t you know, the Odin 09 Posola thing happened. Wham! Right into my brain! Lui has the “art part”, and wouldn’t you also know, the perfumeurs are Delphine Jelk, now Guerlain perfumer, and Guerlain Creative Director Thierry Wasser.

So Lui is about benzoin, the comforting sweet balsamic resin from the styrax tree that is similar to vanilla and makes amber smell like amber, smooth soft sweet and rounded. Benzoin is used as a fixative in fragrances, pulling notes together, creating texture in accords and filling in spaces with wafts of soft leather, sweet smoke, sanded polished woods. Benzoin is warm and comforting and powerful.

Guerlain lists the notes in Lui as carnation, balms, and leather but there’s much more going on. Other sites list benzoin, clove, pear, carnation, vanilla, white musk, smoke. The first sniff of my wrist is medicinal and plastic-y but this immediately sweetens with a delicious spicy-but-light clove carnation note, lifted up on a big wave of benzoin with smoky sandalwood facets. Powdery and spicy and floral in the best possible way, Lui settles in on my skin and begins to unwind.

Buttery dark vanilla joins with the spicy clove, adding warmth and texture and a little more sweetness into the heart, so that the carnation comes into full bloom, elegant and controlled, never heavy or sharp. In the dry-down, the carnation fades away when the benzoin kicks in full time, its balsamic nature creating an soft honeyed accord of velvety sueded leather, vanilla and musk, an accord which becomes surprisingly light and almost transparent. Accented with pale wafts of smoke, the sillage is intimate but lasts on skin for hours.

In the past week, I’ve tested Lui on my husband and myself and it definitely passes the non-gendered sniff test.  We both like it – a lot. Lui unfolds in a linear mode, pretty much in the order of the note list, but it’s not simple or boring by any means. A more true description is that the fragrance owns a seamless simplicity, an understated expensive elegance that I find extremely appealing. It has great warmth and smells really good, inviting, and comforting, and radiates a “lean-in” quality that fascinates me.

For Guerlain, Lui isn’t groundbreaking. It joins the long line of classic Guerlain scents that have preceded it in the non-gendered category. It is designed for our times. Not dark, or loud, or polarizing, the elements in Lui are ingeniously tuned to end in a soothing quietly powerful harmony, a little bit of art that I think we should experience frequently in our daily lives.

**Note:  The name Lui is truly non-gendered since the French objective pronoun lui is used to refer to either “him” or “her” as in “Je lui ai demandé - I asked him/her”. 

Lui is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.