A spray of Guerlain Coriolan, and right away I smell the high desert on a summer’s evening, the time when the ground still holds the hot scent of the earth while the wind is cool and fresh. The earth smells of hot rock, pinyon pine, immortelle, dry wood, and the piney sage that grows gnarled on the ground. The breeze delivers the bite of mint, citrus and fennel. Somehow the cool air and hot landscape meld into a singular fragrance. Coriolan reminds me of eastern Montana in August.
Jean-Paul Guerlain created Coriolan, and it was released in 1998. It’s a woody chypre with notes including lemon tree leaves, bergamot, juniper, absinthe, coriander, nutmeg, oakmoss, patchouli and everlasting flower. I also smell dry wood, amber, musk, and what I swear is mint.
Coriolan bombed. Despite its gorgeous bottle, caged in pink-gold metal with a flip-top lid, sales were weak enough for Guerlain to pull Coriolan before too long. Although I like Coriolan a lot, I understand why it didn’t set the market on fire. It’s a difficult fragrance. Men expecting a fresh fougère would be put off by the perfume's complicated sweet-spice, especially the immortelle. Those looking for a warm fragrance with a dose of Guerlinade would reject Coriolan because of its masculine citrus opening.
But to me Coriolan is a worthwhile addition to the collection of someone who is willing to spend some time getting to know a fragrance. The curious juxtaposition of cool and warm, herbal and sweet takes some attention to appreciate fully. The unexpected combination of coriander, fennel, bergamot, sage and patchouli shows its beauty only when you look beyond the soapy-fresh fresh tingle of Coriolan’s first, cologne-like burst. You have to give up your expectations of what a man’s fragrance is supposed to be to truly appreciate Coriolan.
Once you’ve made peace with Coriolan, you’ll find it easy to wear. I like Coriolan when it’s hot out and I want something that will cool me but leave a sultry but close, chypréed dry down. I treat it much the way I treat any cologne and consider it interchangeable with Pierre Cardin Choc, Guerlain Eau Impériale, and somewhat with Annick Goutal Duel.
Coriolan is a cinch for men, but women who aren’t used to wearing fragrances traditionally marketed to men might find it hard going. I’d say if you’re comfortable wearing Hermès Bel Ami, you won’t have a problem with Coriolan.
Although Coriolan is discontinued, it’s still available on the back shelves of some perfume boutiques and here and there online — sometimes for a very good price. My 50 ml bottle of Coriolan Eau de Toilette cost $45. If price is no object for you, Guerlain “reorchestrated” Coriolan in 2008 as L’Ame d’un Héros Eau de Toilette, and it is available as part of their Les Parisiennes collection for $245 for 125 ml.