Perfume Review: Guerlain Après l’Ondée

"Irises in the old rain garden," from jthomasross (click to follow link).
“Irises in the old rain garden,” from jthomasross (click to follow link).

As I write, spring has budded outside. The daffodils came up a week ago; the hyacinths popped out shortly after. The grass has begun to grow tall and green up from its drab winter state, and I see the tall spiky leaves of wild onions growing up through it on roadsides. The cherry trees – from wild to domesticated fruit-bearing to Japanese ornamental – are blooming in froths of white and pink lace.

When I went outside this morning to take the boys to school, no fewer than six male robins were singing their heads off from different trees, claiming their territory.

Spring has really come. And so it is time to wear one of the loveliest spring fragrances in my collection, or in anyone’s collection: Après l’Ondée. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1906, it is the softest and most wistful scent I have ever smelled. Contemporary with the Impressionist movements in painting and in music, it is a perfect expression of the soft-focus dreaminess of both Monet and Debussy, an indistinct swirl of violet and heliotrope gauzy as a silk chiffon scarf.

Après l’Ondée, the name meaning “After the Rainshower,” begins with the sharp accent of bergamot and anise, like a sudden gust of chilly wind that carries moisture with it. I never smell green leaves in it, for all its fresh topnotes and the suggestion of outdoors. For a time, it weaves anise through violets, and as the anise departs the fragrance becomes more floral. The violets float in and out, darting shy but direct glances from under their lashes, and I smell other floral notes as well: a piquant neroli, a sweet pink rose, a tender powdery mimosa. There a spicy carnation, and there is iris root, cool and satiny. There is powdery vanilla and a woody background of sandalwood and vetiver, but most of all there is a lovely almond-cake heliotrope making sweet promises. For all the combination of potentially cavity-producing components, Après l’Ondée is never sticky-sweet, nor would I call it rich. It is powdery, but also retains a fresh quality that makes it seem very young.

There is an ethereal quality about the scent, and it does not carry big wafty sillage, but it does last for longer than I would expect, at about four hours on me in EdT formulation. The parfum I would assume to last longer, but that was discontinued several years ago, and in any case part of the delight is the ephemeral nature of the thing: flowers fade, the sunlit moment passes, and we wait for them to return with their fleeting burst of joy.

Claude Monet’s Water-lily Pond. Image is public domain in the US.

Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume, writing for Ca Fleure Bon, says that Après l’Ondée is “like rain that has been dragged through the hedge backwards,” “elemental violence… done to vegetation.” I agree that, for all the floral gentleness and sweet, opaque, delicacy of the fragrance, it contains also a sense of unquietness which seems to me perfectly in tune with its connotations of spring. For me, spring is not only the most beautiful season but the one which reminds me most of mortality. I fall in love in the autumn, but in spring I regret. I grieve for mistakes, and for endings, and for things begun well that did not come to fruition. Spring pierces me: so beautiful, so beautiful, and so many things lost, so much joy stillborn…

It’s then that I need a melancholy scent, something that connects me viscerally to the truth that sadness sharpens the vision to joy. Après l’Ondée is Langston Hughes’ bittersweet couplet set to smell:

Oh God of dust and rainbows, help us see

That without dust, the rainbow would not be.

Rainbow Valley
Notes for Après l’Ondée, from Fragrantica: Bergamot, lemon, anise, cassia, neroli, violet, jasmine, mimosa, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, vetiver, orris root, amber, styrax, vanilla, musk, heliotrope, benzoin.

Other delightful reviews: Robin at Now Smell This; Bois de Jasmin; Patty at Perfume Posse; Dane at Pere de Pierre. (As always, if you know of others, please mention them.)


21 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Guerlain Après l’Ondée”

  1. I’ve been playing with a sample of this that Ari sent me on and off for several weeks… and I have to say I think I’m the only person in the perfume world that Apres L’Ondee doesn’t do anything for.

    It’s not bad. I just don’t find it moving. In fact, I hardly find it at all. I can barely smell it!

    Is something wrong with me??

    I’m at least glad it’s so meaningful to others.

    1. I don’t think there’s something wrong with you. I think it does benefit from heavier application than most of the other classic Guerlains. I mean, L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar and Mitsouko in edt are some wild smells, but Al’O is delicate. And if you’re dabbing from a vial, I’m not surprised that you might not smell very much.

      And I just noticed, reading other reviews, that it has apparently been reformulated to its detriment. Wonder if that’s the version that you have a sample of? Ari might know. My decant is a few years old.

      1. I wonder too. Admittedly I’ve been trying to conserve the sample so I haven’t been spraying very generously. I also wonder if the reformulation is a factor; I’m kind of assuming it’s a newer bottle, although Ari would surely know for sure.

        If there weren’t so many other things out there in the world to try, I would try to track down a vintage bottle, etc. etc… but there are so many other things out there in the world to try!

        1. There ARE a lot of things to try. And yeah, if you’re trying to be sparing, you’re probably not getting much to even smell…

          Eh. Don’t worry about it. I only have a 7.5ml decant, and looks like I have to make that last.

  2. I recently purchased a full bottle of this – had a friend pick it up for me in Vegas – and I’m sad to report that although it’s still a lovely, ephemeral, iris/violet thing, the heliotrope is now gone. I don’t regret the purchase (I knew going in there was that risk) but I’m now preparing to hunt down a bottle of pre-reformulation Al’O. Also, I’m seriously craving heliotrope right now, probably because spring isn’t here yet, and I’m sooooo ready for it.

    Excellent, evocative review, Mals.

    1. Thanks!

      Well, DANG IT on the stupid refo. I suppose heliotrope is restricted now. Sad sad. And I only see about six bottles on ebay, too – it’s not like everybody’s Aunt Minnie had a bottle stashed in her girdle drawer the way women did with countless bottles of No. 5. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s how I’ve managed to get hold of really excellent No. 5 vintage parfum…)

  3. Yuummm-eeee, you listed many of my favorite notes there. I will have to give this another try the next time I’m near a Guerlain counter. Although I know I’ve tested it in the past, it takes me a long time to warm up to and appreciate the Guerlains. My nose is still developing!

    1. Well, try it again. I do think it benefits from being sprayed a little heavier than I’d spray many of Guerlain’s other classics, even in EdT. And also, as other commenters have mentioned, it has been recently reformulated and is lacking some of that heliotrope wistfulness, so don’t beat yourself up too much trying to appreciate it.

      To be honest, I loved it right from the beginning, but I don’t wear it very often. I have to be emotionally prepared for it.

  4. Lovely review!
    Things might change and I might grow fond of ALO…for the moment I just wish I got what everyone else gets from après l’ondée (I especially dig the scene depicetd by LT in the guide!!!).
    The name is great but from the actual perfume I just get “nice”. It smells to me like l’heure bleue without the Guerlinade (which in my own perverse world is like saying it’s a diamond without sparkle…what’s the point???).
    Yeah, I know it’s me! I’m missing something.
    I’ll go even further and admit that, in that same cool and soft and melancholic l’heure bluesque vibe I’d take l’Instant pour homme over AlO any time.
    Is your review for the current edt?

    1. Oh, well… plenty to love, you know. And for what it is worth, I like L’Heure Bleue but it really does nothing for me in an emotional sense. (I just divested myself of a partially-used bottle of parfum that wasn’t getting worn.) I know they say that people usually either love Guerlinade or hate it, but I’m neutral. It’s nice, I don’t love it… I’m not familiar with any version of l’Instant, either homme or original or flanker or whatever.

      This review is for edt, but I’ve had this decant for about three years and I’m quite sure it isn’t the currently-available stuff.

    1. Thank you – and thank you for posting the link to your wonderful review! I’ll add it to the main body.

      Spring is so difficult emotionally – various reasons, I know, but people tend to look at me funny when I say I love spring but hate it too.

  5. Lovely review, and the scent is gorgeous, but something, something in that dry-down does not love my skin! These days, that something currently serving time inside Guerlain Homme exclusively (I thought), appears in Apres L’Ondee, anyway on my skin. At first guess, I assumed it was just my impression, or my bottle, but after I spritzed a second time at Saks, an SA down wind of me and said, “It’s not supposed to smell like THAT!”.

    Some people say there’s no such thing as skin chemistry, but as for me and that SA-we believe!

    1. Oh, I believe in skin chemistry too.

      I’m quite sure that DelRae Bois de Paradis is NOT supposed to smell like peppermint oil, turpentine, and maple syrup, but that is what it smells like on me.

      (I edited that second comment because it appeared to be a duplication.)

    1. SERIOUSLY? I mean, sure, dislike what you want… it’s just that people’s reactions to Al’O seem to be either total love or “eh, it does nothing for me.” So I’m surprised.

      I can see a powder-hater recoiling from it.

      1. I know. It’s weird, and especially because I LIKE powder. But Apres L’Ondee was one of the first samples I ordered when I got into perfume, because I thought I’d like it. I didn’t really, and since then each time I have tried it the dislike has grown into actual, well, dislike.

        1. Interesting! Well, there are always those things that just don’t work out. I can’t remember what it is, but there is at least one fragrance that should have been Very Me based on the notes – but really, REALLY wasn’t. You just never know.

  6. Lovely review, and I really savoured your comparison to Monet and Debussy – it is a swirly, gauzy scent for sure. And I am glad that you agree on the unquiet aspect to it – that rainbow shot is perfect and exactly captures the pathetic fallacy in question!

    Thanks too for the name check and link to my Ca Fleure Bon post. (Blast from the past…: – ) )

    PS I have updated my blog roll at last! Your old address got deleted and somehow I managed not to put the new one on, so sorry about that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *