Vega, named for that bright star in the constellation Lyra , was composed by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1936. It was reorchestrated by Jean-Paul Guerlain and rereleased in 2006. It is an aldehydic floral with notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, and sandalwood. I’ll go ahead and say what you’re already thinking: Yes, you’re right. It is indeed Chanel’s iconic No. 5, done up Guerlain style.
Okay, okay, it isn’t exactly No. 5. The aldehydes have much less of that brilliant glare of sunshine-on-snow than No. 5’s do; the jasmine is sweeter and more prominent than No.5’s, and the ylang more buttery. Iris is not the cool, chic Chanel style here, it’s more of the satin ribbon tying the bouquet together, and to be honest I don’t smell a lot of sandalwood in Vega. The sandalwood is present, but to my nose is utterly eclipsed by that dirty-sweet Guerlinade that I like so much in L’Heure Bleue parfum: woody vanilla, with musk, amber, and tonka, as well as whatever-it-is in Guerlinade that reminds me of cat fur. The opening is a little soapy, particularly near the skin, but the waft in the air has a juicy, peachy sweetness to it that I like very much. It’s a happy sort of smell for me – it smells like perfume and it smells like flowers, and after awhile it smells like vanilla. Gaze gave this one two thumbs up: “Smells like Nana,” he said. “Except, you know, it’s sort of fruity.” The floral blend (rose-jasmine-ylang) is so beautiful that it’s been used in hundreds and hundreds of fragrances, which is why this trio of floral notes is a true classic.
So, basically… um… fine, I’ll say it again. Vega is No. 5, Guerlain style. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Vega is a lot like No. 5 with her hair down, lounging on the mussed bed and considering a cigarette; No. 5 sitting on the deck in the sunshine with a lemonade, with her top button undone, laughing and dabbing sweat away from her temples and cleavage; No. 5 at home after she’s wrestled her four kids into bed and read stories and given kisses and fed the dog and collapsed on the couch to have her feet rubbed by her adoring husband. No high heels, no uncomfortable couture party dress with underwear armor, no diamonds: Vega is beautiful and relaxed and really, really friendly.
Mind you, I think No. 5 is absolutely wonderful, and one of the things I like best about it is that it can be appropriate for all kinds of situations, from fried-chicken picnics to the opera (um, applied discreetly, of course. Dabbed from the parfum bottle is best). Vega is similarly versatile. And to me, No. 5 is the comforting, welcome smell of my mother. Yet for years I found it too cold and a bit harsh, like those TV studio lights that can wash out facial tones. It’s only within the last year that I’ve begun to appreciate its bouquet-on-a-marble-stand perfection, and learned that I truly love its sandalwood-iris-musk base. Had I smelled Vega first, I’d have fallen for it immediately. Most of the things that people tend to find challenging about No. 5 have been softened in Vega, and I’d bet if No. 5 is hard for you to deal with you might do better with Vega.
Now for the bad news: Vega is hard to find. Really, really hard to find. Right now on ebay there are two 4.2 oz tester bottles, being sold at $400 a pop, and one bee bottle of the same size (125ml) for $350. The Guerlain website lists it in a 60ml bottle in the “exclusive fragrances” line. I managed to jump in on a bottle split, and I have a 5ml decant that is rapidly disappearing. That’s the other part of the bad news: Vega is EdT concentration, and it’s got standard EdT lasting power – about three hours on me. I have recently begun following the “spray until wet” technique for lightweight scents and getting better staying power from them, but I cannot do this with Vega. Spray Until Wet leads to aldehyde headaches, even though Vega’s aldehydes are fairly gentle for an aldehydic floral. Therefore, I’m stuck with reapplying every three hours if I want to keep smelling Vega, which I do.
Oddly, nobody seems to be talking about this one in recent days. Fragrantica doesn’t even list it. Nobody mentions, “Oh, I’m wearing Vega today,” at the lazy weekend polls at Now Smell This. Or maybe it isn’t so odd: Vega isn’t new, it’s pricey, it was released four years ago, it’s a boutique exclusive and hard to find. Also, lovers of aldehydic florals have plenty else to wear: No. 5, No. 22, Liu, Chamade, Caron Nocturnes, Divine L’Ame Soeur, White Linen and Pure White Linen, L’Interdit, Le Dix, Arpege, My Sin, Climat, L’Aimant, Calandre, Rive Gauche, Je Reviens, Madame Rochas… the list is long. I’m finding that with few exceptions (the Lauders, of course, and the sugary disaster of No. 22 on me), I really love aldehydic florals. You’ll be seeing more reviews of these sparkly gems here as time goes on.
Top image of the Vega bottle is from the blog Victoria’s Own. (Isn’t that gorgeous? The bottle is really beautiful.) The vintage Vega ad is from Perfume-Smellin’ Things. It doesn’t really get across the soft, approachable smiling nature of Vega, but the rays of light fit very well.