French fragrance brand Guerlain is renowned for their legendary perfumes, many of which are over a hundred years old and still going strong, such as Mitsouko.
Founded in 1828, the brand remains an absolute cornerstone of the modern fragrance industry, setting trends and consistently churning out high quality (and often very expensive) perfume.
Lui, a 2017 release, was according to Guerlain, an attempt to make a truly “boundary blurring” and “gender bending” perfume, wholly unisex and universal. But did they succeed in the endeavor?
Guerlain Lui is a smoky, spicy, and powdery vanilla fragrance with a vintage touch. Though it offers a beautiful, Art Deco inspired presentation, the performance and value for money leaves something to be desired. Still, Lui is worth a try for die-hard Guerlain aficionados.
Want to know more? Let’s take a closer look at Guerlain Lui.
Top Notes: clove, pear
Middle Notes: benzoin, carnation
Base Notes: vanilla, smoke, leather, woody notes, musk
Before describing the scent itself, let me put on my linguistics cap, dust off my rusty high school French, and explain what the word “lui” means.
“Lui” is essentially a personal pronoun used as a direct object in French to refer to a person or a thing that has already been spoken of.
Let’s look at this example, first in English, then in French:
- “I gave Pablo the fragrance. I gave the fragrance to him.”(English)
- “J’ai donné le parfum à Pablo. Je lui ai donné le parfum.” (French)
You can see that the word order has been changed, but the structure is essentially the same. “Lui”, in this case, is referring to Pablo, who happens to be a “him”. However, if we swapped Pablo for, say, Lisa, we would have the same result: “J’ai donné le parfum à Lisa. Je lui ai donné le parfum.”
As you can see, “lui” is a personal pronoun that can refer to a man, woman, or even objects. Although there are many men’s fragrances that bear the name “Pour Lui”, such as Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui or Ted Lapidus Pour Lui, “lui” can refer to anyone of any gender.
Guerlain’s Lui, according to their website, is an attempt to make a “universal”, “genderless” perfume, hence why the name of the fragrance is “lui”.
But how does Lui smell? Is it truly “genderless”, as they claim?
Well, in my view, there is really no such thing as a “gendered” fragrance; anyone can wear what they’d like. However, I would say that yes, Guerlain has succeeded in creating a bonafide unisex perfume.
Lui is essentially a warm, spicy, smoky vanilla fragrance.
The opening brings an unmistakable blast of cloves, which are usually my least favorite spice, but which are pretty tame and non-offensive here. After a few moments, though, the cloves tone down a bit, and the fragrance settles into its dominant scent profile.
What makes up that profile is an impeccably blended chord of spice, wood, leather, smoke, and florals in which each note loses its distinct edges. Sniff at one moment and you might smell vanilla and benzoin (or both), but only briefly – another inhalation brings in a cloud of smoke, a twinge of leather, the nose-tingling sensation of a nostril-full of cloves.
But I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the central notes of the fragrance: carnation. Although hardly the protagonist, carnation is very much present in the background, lending a dusky, powdery texture. It’s also the reason for the “retro” feel of the fragrance.
In the “good old days” of perfumery (let’s say the 50s-90s for simplicity’s sake), carnation often formed the backbone of many men and women’s fragrances, usually in concert with other florals like rose, geranium, jasmine, orange blossom, and lily-of-the-valley.
Classics like Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium (1977) and Chanel’s Égoïste (1990) feature a noticeable carnation note. Essentially, it lends a fragrance a “dusty” feeling to a scent, and also has similarities to cloves, leading many a perfumer to pair it with that spice.
That is, of course, what we have here in Lui. Although the carnation is not so forward as to completely couch the fragrance in the 20th century, it’s nevertheless easy to pick up on.
Finally, in the deep drydown, the musk comes to the fore, giving the fragrance a kind of delicious sensuality. If you don’t know what musk is, you’re in luck – I’ve got a full write-up here for you to peruse.
Essentially, though, it gives a fragrance a wonderful, and oftentimes very enticing base. Though the smoke, carnation, cloves, and vanilla might not sound like the most erotic combination, the way they are blended in with the musk gives this fragrance quite the sultry aura.
Dusky carnation and clove, smoky vanilla and leather, warm, dry benzoin and leather, just a hint of pear…Lui is expertly blended and smells damn good.
If I were to describe Lui in a few words they would be: smooth, smoky, spicy, warm, dark, dry, elegant, and floral.
The presentation of Lui is superb.
Lui comes in an elegant dark purple (almost black) faux-leather box.
The front of the box is emblazoned with “Guerlain Paris” and the Guerlain sun logo.
The box opens up on hinges, revealing a niche into which the petite bottle of Lui fits snugly.
The bottle for Lui is simple but elegant: a black cube-like shape, with an Art-Deco inspired motif – the name Lui and Guerlain written in square block white font.
The cap is made of real wood, with a silver-colored metal weight in the center. It snaps tightly onto the atomizer, which is itself silver-colored.
The bottle has a nice heft to it, fits snugly in the hand, and feels excellently made.
The overall design is directly linked to another classic Guerlain bottle: that of Liu, a 1929 aldehydic floral inspired by the character of the same name from Puccini’s sumptuous opera Turandot. Liu’s bottle has the same black bottle and Art-Deco style, though it’s a bit thicker.
Overall, the presentation of Lui is excellent.
The performance of Lui, on the other hand, is average at best.
The longevity of Lui is actually pretty good, and probably the best part of the fragrance’s performance.
Four to five sprays on my perfume eating skin nets me around 8-9 hours of longevity, and more on fabric.
There’s something about the musk in the base that makes this fragrance linger on skin for quite a while. It lasts me a whole work day and then some, which, for the most part, is good enough for me.
Projection & Sillage
However, the projection and sillage definitely leave something to be desired.
Four to five sprays of Lui gives me about an hour of soft projection and very intimate sillage.
The fact of the matter is that Lui is essentially a glorified skin scent. The projection and sillage of the fragrance are very soft, and after that first hour of very slight projection, you get little more than a whisper that can only be detected upon pressing your nose to your skin.
It also is a disappearing act, fading in and out over time, coming back when you least expect it and leaving when you most want it.
Listen, Guerlain is not a house that is known for beast-mode fragrances, and I wouldn’t want it to be that way, in any case. Guerlain is defined by elegance, class, and discretion; it has no need to scream when a murmur is enough to melt the heart. The projection of a Guerlain is almost invariably subtler than other brands, though still detectable, and leaves behind a lovely trail. Such is the case for Santal Royal and Bois d’Arménie, at least.
However, even for a Guerlain, Lui is light. Usually, that’s not much of a problem to me, and I can enjoy Lui for what it is. Or I could, if there wasn’t the matter of…
Value For Money
Let’s put it this way: the value for money of Lui is poor and the fragrance is definitely overpriced.
Guerlain Lui retailed for $185 for a 1.7 oz (50ml) bottle. That’s $3.70/ml.
This is a pretty high ask for most people, though it is a price I would be willing to pay, if the fragrance on offer was superlative. However, I’m sorry to say that Lui isn’t.
And we haven’t even talked about the rebranding yet. Lui in the form that I own it has been officially discontinued and repackaged as part of the generally wonderful but more expensive L’Art et la Matière collection (of which Bois d’Arménie) is a part.
The fragrance has been renamed to Œeillet Pourpre, which in French translates to “Purple Carnation”. It also has had its price ramped up considerably: $360 for 3.4oz (100ml) and $500 for 4.2 oz (200ml).
I’m sorry my friends, but this is simply too much. My love for Guerlain only goes so far. I don’t know if I would even pay such a price for my beloved Bois d’Arménie. For the average consumer, it’s tantamount to highway robbery.
However, Lui is still available at discount websites like FragranceX and FragranceNet for a pretty good price. I got my bottle of Lui for $60, which is a lot more palatable than $185 or $360. Before pulling the trigger on Lui or Œeillet Pourpre, I would recommend you to shop around online first. You might just save a heap of your hard earned cash.
Overall, though I quite like the scent itself, the value for money of Lui is poor.
Who Would Like It
There is nothing that is necessarily challenging about this fragrance, and indeed, I think that it would appeal to most people in that nobody would find it in any way offensive. However, due to the nature of the scent profile and the hefty price tag, I believe that Lui is essentially aimed at the connoisseur.
Guerlainophiles like myself will no doubt enjoy Lui as, buried underneath it all, the classic Guerlinade (essentially a blend of tonka bean, vanilla, and a bouquet of flowers that underlies almost all Guerlain creations) still lurks. People who favor smoky fragrances, or vanilla fragrances that aren’t too sweet (such as Mona di Orio’s Vanille or Indult’s Tihota) will probably like it as well.
Otherwise, I can see people who prefer softer, quieter scents taking to Lui. It smells quite natural and lacks a lot of the headache-inducing aroma chemicals present in a lot of modern day designer fragrances.
As the name implies, Lui is 100% unisex, suitable for men or women I would say twenty-five years and up.
When To Wear It
To my nose, this is purely an autumn fragrance.
This might be a personal thing, but to me, an autumn fragrance should be dry, spicy, smoky, and woody, all of which Lui fits to a tee, and all of which are qualities that are evident in the autumn season itself. Dry air, dry leaves, the smell of baking spices, and the scent of distant bonfires – that’s fall for me. I reserve my sweeter, heavier fragrances – like Xerjoff’s Naxos – for the winter.
So for me, Lui will be best worn in the months of September to November when the leaves are gold and the air is crisp. The relative weakness of the scent also dooms it to autumn, since it would neither be able to stand up to harsh winter cold or blazing summer heat. It would just smell out of place in spring.
As far as occasions go, I can’t envision any occasion when Lui wouldn’t be appropriate, so I think it is actually pretty versatile. Work, date night, casual hangouts, errands – Lui will get you through all of them.
Before purchasing Lui, I read online that it was supposedly similar to my beloved Bois d’Arménie, and that ultimately was what made me take the plunge. I can see how people might say that, since both fragrances are heavy on the benzoin.
However, as an owner of both Lui and Bois d’Arménie I can say with surety: no, they aren’t very much alike, and one is certainly not a replacement for the other.
If anything, Lui is the far spicier, far smokier cousin of Bois d’Arménie. But for lovers of Bois d’Arménie out there, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want something to scratch your itch.
Lui does have a few analogues, however. By far the closest in my experience is Memory Motel by the House of Nuit Nomade, a tobacco-based fragrance featuring clove, incense, vanilla, leather, and iris and composed by none other than Annick Menardo herself, parfumeur behind Bois d’Arménie, Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin, Boucheron Jaïpur Homme, Bvlgari Black, and many more classics. If you like Lui and want the next best thing, I’d say opt for Memory Motel.
French brand Fragonard’s Encens Fève Tonka also gets close to Lui with its blend of clove, incense, woods, and vanilla, though it throws in apple and rose for good measure, as well as a payload of tonka bean, as the name suggests, which Lui lacks.
Finally, Prada’s Luna Rossa Black will give you a similar texture and dark vibe as in Lui, if not exactly the same scent profile.
Pros & Cons
- Well-blended and fairly unique fragrance
- Beautiful presentation
- Good longevity
- Overpriced, and now even more overpriced
- Soft projection and sillage
- Other fragrances can give you a similar scent for a dramatically lesser price tag
The Final Word
Lui is a Guerlain fragrance, and therefore I am bound to at the very least appreciate it for what it is. However, admirer of Guerlain though I am, I cannot help but admit that this is pretty much a misfire. I enjoy the scent and wear it quite often in the autumn, but I must be harsh and unyielding in my judgment.
Guerlain Lui is a well-blended, smoky, woody, and spicy juice housed in a beautiful flacon, but it is saddled with a sky-high price tag and unfortunately light performance. For that reason, it is with a heavy heart that I rate Guerlain’s Lui as:
★★☆☆☆ 2 ½ stars out of 5