Encouraged by a mention of this fragrance in a comment on a fragrance blog – which one I can’t remember – I bought a tester bottle, unsniffed, on eBay two summers ago. I was pleased with the result and I have worn it fairly frequently, but there’s still a lot in this pretty disc bottle. It is, as the name suggests, a very summery potion. However, it is not one of those light citrusy things designed to cool off the wearer. Rather, it’s very floral and spicy, with a sweet golden drydown that seems to encourage thoughts of warm, suntanned skin, and I find myself enjoying it as the summer days tail off into autumn.
The main accord is carnation and ylang-ylang, on a warm oriental base. The notes list includes, according to Fragrantica, bergamot, mint, pear, jasmine, lily, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, iris, heliotrope and vanilla.
The vanilla is apparent from the beginning, although I wouldn’t call Terracotta VdE a vanilla fragrance; it is clearly a Guerlain. The carnation comes forward pretty quickly, and if I sniff hard I can smell the lily, both flowers that I’ve always loved for their spicy and floral aspects. Ylang-ylang is present too, with a creamy-sweet angle that seems to soften the clove of the carnation. I struggled to pick out the iris, but once I stopped trying to smell it and began focusing on the satiny quality iris often gives to a composition, I found it. The iris serves to keep the fragrance from being way too sweet – it is sweet, as you might expect with the vanilla and heliotrope in the base, but not gourmand. Or, rather, as Luca Turin says in Perfumes: The Guide of the classic Guerlains¹, it smells of food and of other inedible smells, in this case of old school tanning lotions. The heliotrope is noticeable, but not a powdery cherry thing like the stuff that bangs you over the head in, say, Serge Lutens’ dreadful Louve; it’s delicate and almondy. I also tend to think there must be a little bit of musk in this scent, because it often smells like skin at the end of a long day, not like body odor but just, you know, skin, after it’s been going through the day.
The effect, overall, is of a beach blanket on which a young swimsuit-clad couple are embracing. You smell the suntan lotion, the vanilla milkshake they were sharing, and the young man’s Old Spice aftershave, as well as the sunshine on the couple’s warm, salty, tanned skin. Think Beach Blanket Bingo, lose the goofy music, and you’d be halfway there.
TVd’E doesn’t smell quite so retro, but it doesn’t smell modern, either. There are echoes of L’Heure Bleue in it (the clove, the heliotrope) and definitely of Old Spice, a fragrance my father wore for decades. Some reviews on Fragrantica mention a clay or baked earth aspect, which I can’t pick out specifically, but which doesn’t seem out of place in my experience with this scent.
This fragrance was a limited edition. Octavian of 1000Fragrances says that Guerlain’s 1910 creation, Quand Vient l’Ete (When the Summer Comes), was the inspiration for this scent, or rather that Mathilde Laurent, then the house parfumeur for Guerlain, streamlined Quand Vient l’Ete to create Terracotta Voile d’Ete. I’ve read other reviews² that compare the newer rerelease of Quand Vient l’Ete to it, with some commenters preferring Terracotta Voile d’Ete. Someone (Denyse at Grain de Musc?) claims that Quand Vient l’Ete is the edp version of Terracotta Voiled’Ete, which seems a logical conclusion, but I don’t have confirmation of that.
I like the first radiant burst of the floral notes best, since it’s chock full of the spicy florals that I love. However, after an hour, the fragrance settles down and pulls in closer to the skin as the vanilla-heliotrope-musk-iris base develops. From then on, it becomes fairly quiet and close to the skin, with little radiance. It is an eau de toilette, and wears like one; it is nearly gone in about three hours. Like L’Heure Bleue, it blooms in the heat and smells rich and interesting. I sometimes wish it would be either all sillage-y like the first stage, or all quiet like the second (to be honest, the top notes of bergamot and mint zip past me in about thirty seconds and I don’t really consider them part of the overall character of the scent). Since people are accustomed to smelling Old Spice on men, I think Tvd’E would be perfectly acceptable as a man’s scent. Guys, try it out.
Terracotta Voile d’Ete was a real bargain at $24 for a 100ml bottle, and I imagine I’ll be wearing it for summers to come. Sadly, as stocks have become depleted following its discontinuation, I notice that prices have gone up for this fragrance, and the bottles are now selling at about $45 a pop. It’s still a reasonable price to pay for such an unexpected summer scent.
Other reviews of Terracotta Voile d’Ete: Denyse at Grain de Musc, Pyramus at One Thousand Scents. Also at Basenotes, MakeupAlley, and Fragrantica.
¹ In the review of Elixir Charnel Gourmand Coquin:
The trick of the old Guerlain gourmands was to smell like the sum total of a large household in which dinner, among other things, was being prepared. Thus did Mitsouko smell of floor wax as well as peaches, and Shalimar of fence-paint creosote as well as vanilla.
² Typically in comments on blog reviews of Quand Vient l’Ete. I won’t list those reviews here, but if you want them, Now Smell This has a great search feature.
Top image from Fragrantica. Lower image from Ruffled (a blog about weddings).