By Maya Quiroga
HAVANA TIMES — Satisfying the most demanding tastes of the French and European market, lover of exclusive fragrances, the French perfume house Guerlain has returned to the same place in Havana it once founded in 1917.
The perfumery reopened its doors to the public in a national heritage building located at 157 Paseo del Prado or Marti, between Refugio and Colon Streets, thanks to the joint effort between the state tourism company Habaguanex Ltd. – managed by the Havana City Historian’s Office – and the French distributor Saint Remy Trading Ltd., a French company which has been present in the Cuban market for 21 years.
In the Guerlain perfume house building, old and new elements are combined in harmony, as a result of the work of the creative group Catauro which is made up by Angel Fornaris and his wife Rosa Rodriguez, two young people who graduated from the Advanced Institute of Industrial Design whose first specialization were light fixtures.
“We had seen some of your work at Habaguanex projects and on Cadena’s recommendation, we sought them out. When we told them our dream, they immediately jumped on board the fantasy train and infused the spirit we were looking for into all of the decoration. We even managed to get them to restore the woodwork and the building’s original floors,” explains Susel Ferran, the brand manager at Saint Remy.
What product lines are currently on sale at the perfumery?
“We have been distributing prestigious and world famous perfume brands on an exclusive basis, such as Dior, Givenchy, Hermes, Versace, Mugler, Azzaro, Loewe, Issey Miyake, Narciso Rodríguez, and Dolce & Gabbana. This is the first Saint Remy franchise outside of Europe.
“Now we have an exclusive commercial space to sell these brands in Havana. As well as perfume, it’s the first time in 15 years that we will also sell the Terracota line of cosmetic powders, which was one of our customers’ demands. We also have soaps.
“It’s a well-known fact there are several distributors at perfumeries. This store will only stock and sell Saint Remy brands, which has a very wide product range, and we are lucky to be able to display all of their goods here.
“A new feature we have now is that the house has a dispenser to sell however many millimeters of perfume the customer wants, which are sold in small bottles which have been specially treated. As a trial, we began with fragrances which had rose petal scents, which are extremely sought-after in Cuba.”
A journey to its origins
The Guerlain perfume house was originally founded back in 1828 when Pierre-Francois Pascal Guerlain founded a small perfume business under his name near central Paris.
With the help of his two sons, Gabriel and Aime, he created unique fragrances which led him to great success and fame. Twelve years later, he already had a store in the French capital which soon became the meeting point for Parisian elite society. It was common to find Queen Victoria, Queen Isabel of Spain and Tsar Alexander III.
The perfumer was coronated in 1853 with the launch of his most famous fragrance: Eau de Cologne Imperiale, which really impressed the French royal family.
Aiming to expand the business in new lands, the perfume store owners chose Latin America as the destination. This is how, in 1917, a small and interesting market found on Paseo del Prado was chosen to hold the first Guerlain boutique outside of Europe.
The Guerlain perfume house in Havana was open until the 1960s. In 1996, the building became a bike and electrical appliance repair workshop. One fine day, Mr Christian Noel Fournier, President of Saint Remy, walked past there by chance, and when he discovered the history of the place, he became fascinated with the idea of reopening the old Guerlain house’s doors in the Cuban capital.
Since then, Fournier has persisted in making his dream come true. Time passed by and in thef first decade of the new millennium, the building became a perfumery belonging to Habaguanex Ltd. for a five-year period, but they had to close down immediately because of building problems.
Right at the end of this year 2016, the old French man’s dream came true as a great present to Doctor Eusebio Leal Spengler, Havana’s Historian.
What started off as a small business, with just one man, is today a chain of stores defined by refinement and good taste. Today, there are seven Guerlain boutiques in Paris, plus other exclusive stores in Frankfurt, Milan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Havana.
Guerlain fragrances are sold in Europe, United States, Asia and Oceania, Africa and the Middle East. The prices of these products range from 30 to over 1,000 USD. An example of this is the exclusive Orchidee Imperiale cream which came out onto the market worth 1,115 USD.