Very few people talk about Cologne du 68, and I think I know why. For one, it’s not as widely distributed as the other “summer” Guerlains like the Eau de Cologne series, and when it was first launched, it was sold in large jugs of 480mls, then in 250ml flagons, and finally in a limited series run of 100ml bottles – all of them overpriced for an eau de cologne concentration. The sales assistants also clearly didn’t know how to sell this to customers – I don’t blame them – and there were reports of SAs telling customers to buy now “because when it’s gone, it’s really gone.”
Funnily enough, almost a decade later, Cologne du 68 is still around. Now sold only in the 100ml bottles, it costs a more reasonable €60-€80 a bottle, compared to the €150+ it was selling for eight years ago. And it has very little to do with the almost identically named Le Parfum du 68, which was released in 2013 (sometimes I think that the Guerlain SA’s go home at night, put their kids to bed, and, gnashing their teeth, open to page 507 of the Guerlain manual in an attempt to keep things straight in their heads).
But also, part of the reason people don’t talk about Cologne du 68 that much is because it is so difficult to classify. It’s an eau de cologne, but is far more complex than the simple stuff like the 4711 you keep in your fridge to cool down with. With 68 different notes vying for your attention, the best anyone can do is point to the few notes they do pick up, and of course, this means that some people perceive it as mostly vanilla, and others as crisp and herbal. Overall note impressions and the “feel” of a perfume, as conveyed by others, is a very useful barometer for how you think a fragrance will smell. But in this case, it’s pretty useless because we are all picking up something different.
So, trust me when I say that, although I can’t describe it precisely, Cologne du 68 is really gorgeous and everyone should give it a try. I see it as the traditional Guerlain triad of aromatics (herbs, citrus), vanilla, and resins/gums – the Guerlinade, in short – exploded and decorated upon until you have these different layers floating off and then colliding together again, as if anchored at the ankle by a central axis of Guerlain DNA.
The first layer is a fantastic collection of green, juicy citrus notes such as bergamot, mandarin, orange, clementines, and petigrain, interspersed with a very stemmy, green note, like crushed basil leaves mixed with violet leaf. It is bright, but not sour or dry. Then the flavor I pick out most strongly is from the aromatics group, when a wistful “blue” waft of lavender and anise moves in. In fact, insofar as I could use a word, any word, to pinpoint what direction Cologne du 68 travels in, I would use the word “anisic”.
But it’s worth noting that these layers are not experienced consecutively, the way I am describing them – rather, they occur in waves that overlap and merge with each other. So, when I am filling my lungs with the juicy, green, superbly tart opening, already my nose is aware of a creamy floral vanilla swishing in and around the citrus and aromatics. I can pick up a smooth, buttery magnolia, with its hint of cream and citrus, as well as sweet pink roses and a fluffy, almond-like heliotrope, all submerged in that Guerlain vanilla. I can see why people think it’s a lot like the L’Instant series previously released by Guerlain – it features that bright citrus/aromatic topnote and lavender heart of L’Instant Pour Homme, and that vanilla-sodden magnolia of L’Instant for Women. (Cologne du 68 is more complex, though).
Further on into the wear, and the Guerlain gums and resins poke up through the creamy floralcy and herbal “blue” tint, most strongly the sticky, vanillic, somewhat cinnamon-dusted resinoid of benzoin, which gives the vanilla a dry, dusty feel. Myrrh is also present, adding to the anisic feel of the blend. It is softly smoky, but also, I have to say, quite incredibly sweet.
There is a praline-like effect here that reminds me very much of both Myrrhe Ardente by Annick Goutal (which is, however, far sticker and denser than Cologne du 68) and Shalimar Parfum Initial, where there is a syrupy, densely sweet praline note to sweeten the iris and patchouli. In Cologne du 68, the praline note reacts with the dusty benzoin and vanilla to produce a similarly throat-catching, overly sweet-sharp effect. Whatever it is that causes this effect, it makes Cologne du 68 kind of hard work to wear and enjoy in the drydown – at least for me. Each time I wear it, the drydown brings to mind a clump of hard, golden benzoin and myrrh resins crystallizing on my skin.
But the first half of Cologne du 68 is a pure delight. It is complicated, yes, perhaps overly so – and has definitely been badly marketed by Guerlain, but anyone who isn’t particularly interested in the traditional summer eau de cologne format should put this on their sample list. It’s one of those perfumes, like 34 Boulevard St. Germain, that people always say are too complex for their own good, but actually turn out to be such pleasant things to wear that you find them creeping up into your everyday rotation despite your own (critical) misgivings.