Updated: Dec 26, 2018
I wrote this article for Séduction-Magazin, an offshoot of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and they did not pay me in time*, so here it is.
The first time I encountered Jicky —unaccountably pronounced Djicky by the French— I was 8 years old, and it was worn by a friend of my mother, a dashing, slender woman with a helmet of curly black hair and a husky smoker's voice. Jicky at the time struck me as a perfume with an accent, a lilt, as if every sniff sounded a flirty phrase ending with a question mark. Amazons like her, in those early nineteen sixties drove freshly-minted Mini Coopers, and she whipped hers from Paris to Saint Tropez and back at breakneck speed down the two-lane Nationale 7. For years, therefore, I assumed it was a sassy, racy, reckless sort of feminine.
One day it was finally explained to me that Jicky had been the first unisex fragrance, dating back to the Platonic era when perfume had yet to split into male and female halves. It was composed in 1889 by Aimé Guerlain, who was gay (the firm kept that quiet for more than a century) and probably named after one (unidentified) Jacques. 1889 was the year when the Eiffel Tower opened to the public, and writer Alphonse Allais famously wanted a flat in it because it was the only place in Paris from which one could not see it. It was also the year when Chemistry, until then chiefly focused on finding explosives and dyes, finally reached beyond bangs and colors to its true calling: smells.
Jicky was the first perfume you can still buy that used a synthetic material, ethylvanillin, made by the pioneering German firm of Haarmann and Reimer. Vanilla was the stuff in fermented beans: boozy, smoky, heavy. Ethylvanillin changed our idea of vanilla forever: clean, scintillating, smooth. It was made for fragrance and Aimé Guerlain was the first to use it. In those days, perfumes were like early-medieval coats of arms: you could keep things simple and still be new because nothing was taken. Aimé Guerlain went for vanilla gold on lavender blue. He added lemon for edge, probably some nitro musk (a failed explosive) for smoothness and small amounts of other materials to provide the hubbub of background voices that let you know you've entered a busy place and will soon get a good table.
Jicky went through many changes over the years, hitting a low in the early 2000s when it was reduced by neglect to a flat, basic accord. Guerlain has been reworking its classics recently, and the current Jicky vintage is back to full splendor: spray the EdP on your arm and you will find it hard to keep walking and act as if nothing happened. The top note is hypnotically peaceful, like a view from on high onto an empty sea. The accord keeps you guessing dreamily until in good time he freshness of lavender and the warm-cookie feel of vanilla converge to the exact temperature of skin. And you can buy this feeling.
* post edited by adding "in time" to clarify the facts.
©2018 Luca Turin