Review: Vintage Guerlain Derby c. 1983
I will begin my first substantive post with a review of the often overlooked and hard to find Guerlain men’s classic, Derby. Derby was originally launched in 1983 as the second masterpiece of the now disgraced Jean Paul Guerlain (his first being Habit Rouge). He released numerous feminine scents, but like the Guerlains who preceded him, his real talent was creating gentlemanly perfumes.
Derby came to the fore in time when the last vestiges of classical (by classical, I mean Victorian/Edwardian/Belle Epoch, etc.) perfumery had come to end in the 1960s. Derby likely took much inspiration from another timeless and brilliant scent that was introduced a few years earlier—the irreproachable Patou pour Homme designed by the mainstream fragrance industry’s final farewell hero, Jean Kerleo.
Derby is a leathery woody fragrance for men, most suitable for autumn or winter evening wear. The opening is a brisk bergamot and green herbs followed by a soft floral heart of Spanish jasmine and Bulgarian rose with aromatic spices such as nutmeg. The base is built strongly with a good portion of real oakmoss, patchouli, and sandalwood.
The overall feel of Derby is dark, but never brooding or overpowering. It is an 80s powerhouse style fragrance if you will, but retains more than enough good breeding under the watchful eye of Mr. Guerlain himself.
The juice itself has darkened to almost dark brown at this point (purchased and shipped from Italy recently), but I feel nothing has suffered the passing of time save maybe the citrus because Derby contains mostly elements that improve over time if stored properly like a 1963 vintage Bordeaux wine. My bottle is the first edition "eagle" bottle that is supposed to look like an eagle with its wings outstretched. It was horribly unpopular and Guerlain quickly changed to the standard rectangular bottle.
Now the question everyone is asking, how it compares to the current version in the peculiar and ugly wood encased bottle that departs from decades of tradition. I have sampled the contemporary version and it quite good and quite faithful to the original (if you can stand the bottle). It’s not as dark or deep and the oakmoss and leather is not as profound. If you can’t find a vintage bottle, I would suggest buying the current round before the fragrance is degraded any further or is sold in an even tackier bottle.