Guerlain Eau de Cologne Imperiale ~ fragrance review

Empress Euguenie

Celebrity fragrances have been around a long time. Like TV, music and movie stars of today, European royalty lent their names and seals of approval to many perfume house scents in the 19th century — and were supplied with all manner of toiletries in return. Having a queen, emperor, princess or other “noble” person or family associated with a fragrance helped sales, and Guerlain received royal “warrants” from the likes of the Queen of Belgium in 1842 and the Prince of Wales.1 Guerlain produced many perfumes with “royal airs” — Bouquet de Duchesse, Délice du Prince, Le Bouquet de Fürstenberg, Esterházy Mixtyre, Bouquet du Roi d’Angleterre, Bouquet du Jardin du roi, Bouquet de l’Impératrice and Bouquet Napoléon.2

Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain (who founded the Guerlain perfumery in 1828) was awarded a royal supplier patent in 1853 when he received permission from Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoléon III) to name one of his creations Eau de Cologne Impériale;3 Guerlain was given the title Perfumer to her Majesty the Empress Eugénie.2 Eugénie’s cologne became famous, and its “bee design” bottles are an enduring symbol of Guerlain.4 (The bee bottle’s shape was inspired by the top of the Napoleon I column in the Place Vendôme in Paris).1

Guerlain bee bottle

Today, Eau de Cologne Impériale is part of Guerlain’s Les Eaux collection (which also includes Eau de Cologne du Coq, Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat, Eau de Guerlain, and the new Cologne du Parfumeur by Thierry Wasser). Eau de Cologne Impériale’s “official” fragrance notes are lemon, bergamot, petitgrain and neroli; included on older ingredients lists are orange, verbena, lavender, cedar and tonka bean. Surely, the cologne’s formula has been tweaked since 1853.

Eau de Cologne Impériale is one of the milestones in my “perfume life”; it opened my nose (and wallet) to all things Guerlain. I received my first bottle of Eau de Cologne Impériale as a Christmas present ages ago; the bee bottle, the beautiful label and the effervescent scent thrilled me, and I’ve been buying it ever since.

When I read complaints about Eau de Cologne Impériale’s quick disappearance on skin or its “boring” formula, I think: if you want a quirky, powerhouse perfume, you don’t reach for Eaux de Cologne. Impériale doesn’t aim for complexity, it’s not designed to last — it’s meant to refresh the body and revive the spirits...and then fade away.

Eau de Cologne Impériale is all about citrus: outrageously strong bergamot, sour lemons, a lime rind/flower “moment” and menthol-y orange peels. The fragrance right out of the bottle is, to me, intoxicating. After the initial detonation of citrus notes subsides, there is a glint of “green” petitgrain and an “after-smell” of soft neroli. I do believe Eau de Cologne Impériale lasts longer today than it did in the past; I remember pouring it on in days gone by and not being able to smell it 15 minutes later. Eau de Cologne Impériale, from my brand-new bottle, lasts over an hour on my skin…a big improvement, achieved without any lessening of the beauty in Eau de Cologne Impériale’s vibrant opening minutes.

Eaux de Cologne are the workhorses of perfumery. Headache? Put a cool, damp cloth scented with Eau de Cologne over your forehead and eyes and rest awhile. A spray bottle of Eau de Cologne is wonderful to take on trips. As your plane becomes odiferous from the bodily “emanations” of fellow travelers and from the smells of stale food and coffee…spray some Eau de Cologne on your neck, your pillow and blanket, and feel “cleaner” immediately (without fear of overwhelming perfume-haters in the cabin). Place Eau de Cologne-scented handkerchiefs in your luggage (Eau de Cologne Impériale’s bergamot, lemon-lime, and orange rind aromas last for days when sprayed on fabric). I spray Eau de Cologne around my hotel rooms: on the sheets and towels and shower curtain, into the air. Eaux de Cologne are meant to be used lavishly and they provide lots of enjoyment. Evanescent Eaux de Cologne won’t interfere with your “regular” fragrances either; they usually layer well with other (stronger) scents.

Les Eaux de Guerlain

I’m a fan of all Guerlain Les Eaux (Impériale is my favorite...so far, I've not yet tried Cologne du Parfumeur); most have the same lasting power as Eau de Cologne Impériale, with the exception of Eau de Guerlain, which feels more like a light Eau de Toilette than an Eau de Cologne. Eau de Cologne Impériale comes in many sizes and bottle styles and, along with the other Les Eaux, has a newly designed, beautiful white-and-gold label that includes its creator’s name. For buying information, see the listing for Guerlain under Perfume Houses.

I’m not a “royalist,” and Empress Eugénie certainly didn’t have a part in creating Impériale, but if her initial endorsement of Impériale gave it the ‘legs’ it needed to last into the 21st century, I’m grateful to her. Will even ONE of today’s celebrity scents be around in 157 years?

Note: top image of Empress Eugénie by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1854), middle image of the top of Colonne Vendôme and bottom image of Childeric’s “bees” [all cropped] via Wikimedia Commons.

1. Perfume Legends, by Michael Edwards; p. 16.

2. Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin, A History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present, by Richard Stamelman; p. 66.

3. The Book of Perfume, by Elizabeth Barillé and Catherine Laroze, p. 74.

4. Bees were a symbol of Napoleon I’s reign. Bees represented immortality and resurrection, and the bee, as a symbol, linked the new, Napoleonic dynasty to the ancient Merovingian rulers of (what became) France. In 1653, golden “bees” (see image above) were found in Tournai in the tomb of Merovingian King Childeric I (many historians now believe these “bees” are, in fact, depictions of cicadas). Source: Napoleon.org


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64 Comments

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  1. ScentScelf says:

    Okay, first of all, *yes yes yes* to the complaints about cologne staying power. I mean, okay, steer away from cologne in general if you don’t like its impermanent aspects…but don’t beat on cologne for being cologne.

    That said…thanks for the historical tour, and the personal review. I’m one of those who not only enjoys the refreshing aspects of Imperiale, I also find it actually helps with my headaches…yes, migraines, a la the story that sometimes gets attached to it. (Concocted to help Eugenie with her migraines.) Just the right amount of citrus and softener.

    Wonderful review….not a surprise, from you, but much appreciated. Much like a Guerlain cologne. :)

    • ScentScelf says:

      As for the new Cologne du Parfumeur, I have tried it. I has a kind of Guerlinade sheer veil to it; I would call it a different kind of animal, really…a liger, or tion, if you will; mostly cologne, with a drift of perfume throughout the drydown. Quite lovely, actually…but not the pick-me-up then leave-me-be I generally attach to colognes…especially the fab Guerlain colognes. :)

      • Kevin says:

        SS: can’t wait to try it but it does sound more tenacious than “cologne”

    • Julia says:

      I also get migraines and now I have a reason to pick up that bottle of Eau de Cologne Imperiale I’ve had my eye on. In fact I’m a little headachy right now….

      • Kevin says:

        Julia: glad this “reminded you” of the much-needed bottle of Imperiale.

        • Julia says:

          I’m jumping back in here to say that my bottle arrived a few days ago and I’m really enjoying it today. It is really hot down here and I was feeling headachy (a “sick headache” as we say) and tried it on a cool, damp cloth first on my forehead and then on the back of my neck. Wonderful. Magically cooling, very refreshing, and the scent is just perfect when even the thought of perfume makes you a little queasy. I see this being a big part of my summer.

    • Kevin says:

      ScentScelf: thank you…and agree that Imperiale helps those “sick headaches” as we called them in the South. HA!

  2. BChant says:

    I bought this blind one time at my favorite fragrance warehouse for $35 because I thought it was a great deal. At first I liked it, but I was very disappointed because it did not have “modern” perfume longevity. Now I appreciate it as an excellent cologne, which is a different beast altogether.

    • Kevin says:

      BChant: yes, it is…glad you learned to enjoy it.

  3. Joe says:

    Kevin: I must try this and the other Guerlain eaux. Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat particularly intrigues me, and certainly the new Wasser creation. The only similar thing I’ve tried from Guerlain is the Cologne du 68 (which I don’t remember loving).

    Just yesterday I remembered to spray some 4711 on my handkerchief — and it’s a habit I want to make sure to keep up through the summer.

    While on the topic: I just remarked recently that I have no trouble with colognes dissipating quickly. I’ve just decided that for my money, for something so fleeting, I’d rather just “invest” in something simple and cheap (yet wonderful smelling), and the best bet for that in my book has to be 4711. Colognes ARE wonderful though — I recommend sampling the Wienerblut Klubwasser if you ever get a chance.

    • SuddenlyInexplicably says:

      Is the modern formulation of 4711 good? Or should I search out an older one?

      • Joe says:

        I’m sure what I’ve got is of recent vintage and it smells good to me. I have a feeling that it’s similar to most white wine in that one would actually rather have newer for fear that it doesn’t hold up well over time… but who knows. That’s just a guess.

        • Kevin says:

          Joe: agree…can’t imagine an old bottle of mostly citrus aging very well.

      • Kevin says:

        SI: I think 4711 smells pretty much the same as it always has…and as everyone knows: it’s excellent chilled in summer for a pick-me-up.

    • Kevin says:

      Joe: thanks for reminding me of then W.K…..it got lost in the shuffle!

    • lupo says:

      Very true, 4711 is unbeatable, and the new Acqua Colonia series are equally great (the bergamot and vetiver is particularly nice). I’m probably eager to invest a little more in my cologne, and I recently became a devote fan of Mugler Cologne, that I find (sort of) cheap, cheerful and quite long lasting. However, Eau de Cologne Imperiale is absolutely lovely, Eau du Coq even better, but not a patch on the wonderful Eau de Guerlain!

  4. AnnS says:

    Kevin – thanks for the great review. I’ve been going around and around each summer these past few years about buying a bottle of Imperiale (just even yesterday!). My grandfather used to wear it – and I have one of the old large, empty “bee” bottles (with a glass stopper!) that used to be his… but I digress. I love the way it smells (and eau de Guerlain too – like a gin and tonic!), but I am one of those plebians who get disappointed when it goes away so quickly. I know that is the point, and therefore, fun to refresh. But every time I open my wallet to buy an eau, it just snaps back shut! I do think eau Imperiale is the best cologne out there. But I like Hermes un Jardin sur le Nil, AG Mandragore and Hadrien, and now Chanel Cristalle edp for a more longer lasting eau de cologne “effect” with a strong citrus bend. But Imperiale is definitely a very elegant cologne choice and my favorite if I were to ever cave and buy one….

    • Kevin says:

      Anns: DO buy a bottle for old time’s sake! You can get it at discounters usually under $50 for 100 ml

      • AnnS says:

        Well this current heat we are having has and your review has encouraged me to go for it! You don’t have to twist my arm very far! I am going to pick up a botte very soon for the summer. I know I will enjoy it!

  5. RusticDove says:

    Thank you for the great review and history lesson Kevin! I hope that one day I will own one of those fabulous bee bottles. Any of the scents will do. And if I have my druthers, it will be the big-ass one with the crystal stopper. I will then apply it liberally just like Charles Bronson in the Mandom commercial. Oh yeah. :-D

    • Kevin says:

      RisticDove: HA! The bigger bottle the better! Used to love the ones where the bees were gilded!

      • L says:

        By way of synchronicity, I was just on The Perfume House (of Portland) Web site and saw that they’re selling an 18 karat gold gilded bee bottle for $1,050.

        • RusticDove says:

          Oh, then I’ll take two please. ;-)

  6. eminere says:

    “Will even ONE of today’s celebrity scents be around in 157 years?”

    Truer words have never been spoken.

    • Kevin says:

      eminere: a friend at work said: “Isn’t Paris HIlton our modern-day Eugenie?” NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

      • boojum says:

        Heaven help us all if that’s the case….

      • Joe says:

        But then again, I’ll just say in a snarky way: “What did Eugénie really do to be worthy of any fame and fortune either?” Mm hmm.

        • Bela says:

          She was Spanish so, as far as the French were concerned, she was a little ‘exotic’. That’s reason enough to be famous and wealthy, isn’t it? LOL!

          • Kevin says:

            Bela et al: from what I’ve read she was smarter than her husband and s a v v y enough to keep a babe born out of wedlock secret! Her political advice…not so good. HA

  7. lisa says:

    I wouldn’t know about curing headache with cologne. Light, sound and smell are all poison to any headache of mine. But I rejoice to find I’m not the lone cologne-wolf I thought I was.The reaction of shop assistants to my quest for Eau du Coq usually makes me feel so weird and out of tune. Yet I love it, a sort laughing and younger version of Eau sauvage. Odd to think it’s 60 ys its senior. It’s flighty, yet is it just my fancy that I can still smell its ghost two hours after applying?

    • Kevin says:

      Lisa: if you douse yourself like I do…you certainly may still smell it hours later.

  8. meadowbliss says:

    Kevin, thank you for this beautiful and historic tour. I love learning about the ‘great houses’ of perfume, and Guerlain reigns supreme.
    Love the airplane emanations visuals.

    • Kevin says:

      MeadowBliss: Always be prepared for those horrible emanations!

      • AnnS says:

        Kevin – I found your airplane emanations to be very funny as well, esp. having just come back from a long trip with seats near the back of the plane. I also found that Mandragore was a suitable pick me up in large doses for this long trip with family in-laws with too many dogs. Fabreeze and Mandragore never smelled so good. (Secretely sneaking out in the middle of the night to Fabreeze everything! ) ;-)

  9. Tim says:

    Kevin- all 4 of the eaux are my favorite, the second I spray whichever one I reach for, all different and all good. Can’t wait to try the new one.
    I have a soft spot for the flowery cedrat and du coq (like a spring day to me). I agree about longevity, even in bottles i remember from the late 90′s. Imperiale feels woodier, I think . EDG always was longer lasting – on a cool day I can find at bedtime, from my new bottle.

    • Kevin says:

      Tim: Eau de Guerlain would be great sprayed on cool sheets…sweet dreams.

  10. boojum says:

    I love colognes…Guerlain, not so much. Although the best Guerlain for me has been Vetiver, so that gives me some hope for the eaux… yes?

    • Kevin says:

      boojum: there’s hope…

  11. Thanna says:

    Wonderful review Kevin – as always. I just purchased my first bottle of Imperiale a couple of weeks ago when my cologne lemmings went into overdrive. I wonder if I’m the first person who loves the scent but hesitates to use it just because I also love the bee bottle and don’t want to empty it? Is that just too strange?

    I purchased a bottle of 4711 this past weekend. Hadn’t smelled it in years but Joe’s posts made me search it out. If my scent memory is correct it smells just as refreshing as it always has. Haven’t tried it on skin yet but I can’t imagine that I’ll be disappointed.

    Please indulge me while I put in a plug for my current cologne favorite – the inexpensive Nenuco. More straightforward lemon in this one than in Imperiale or 4711. The drydown is nice and clean without crossing the line into soap and water. There’s a tiny bit of something sweet there too. Best part (besides the dirt cheap price) is the lasting power. Sprayed it liberally this morning and could still get an occasional whiff of it a couple of hours later. I swear I’ll run through the whole 6.8 oz this summer with all of the sheet spraying, handerchief dousing etc that I’m doing!

    • Kevin says:

      Thanna: Nenuco..cologne for BABIES! Oh how I love Europe! (I just had to look it up online!) (And after you use up the Imperiale you can refill the bottle…or simply put rubbing alcohol in it to use…..)

      • Thanna says:

        Don’t let the pic of the baby on the Nenuco box scare you off – there’s nothing Johnson&Johnson-esque about Nenuco!

    • lisa says:

      Any cheap white wine or lemon tea will fill your bee bottle quite nicely. Don’t let the cologne go bad on account of the bottle

  12. Robin R. says:

    Kevin, what a great read. A little history, a little context, a little bit about practical application, and a whole lot of good, clean, citrusy fun! The vision of you spritzing everything in your hotel room, shower curtain and all, was terribly sweet, endearing and enchanting. Life should be lived exactly like that. ;-)

  13. redscorpio says:

    Doesn’t Histoires de Parfums have a scent inspired by the same Eugenie? She must have been some woman!

    • Kevin says:

      Red S: yep. I believe it’s 1826 that’s “her” perfume.

  14. OperaFan says:

    Kevin – Thank you for this review. Your Jicky post was my introduction to the Guerlain Eaux series.
    I adore Jicky, but also enjoy the Eau d’Imperiale, which I find much simpler and most refreshing. I actually did use it recently to help me get rid of a nasty heade. It worked. I have a rsmall bottle (part of a set of minis from the late ’90s). Currently I have FB of Eau de Fleur de Cedrat and Cologne du 68. so don’t feel as much need to acquire a bottle. I may have to rectify that soon…

    • Kevin says:

      Opera Fan: I remember those cute little bee bottles…wonder if they make them anymore….

    • OperaFan says:

      Oh, goodness! I wrote this comment last night – very groggy. Was literally falling asleep while typing and attempted to proof-read – not very well, obviously! I meant to say that your Jicky post was my intro to NST, since I already knew about the EdCs!
      Not sure they still make the mini bee bottles – although it’s possible since they’ve already got the molds and haven’t changed the large bottles.

  15. k-scott says:

    I greatly enjoyed the “biography” you included in review Kevin- and am especially fascinated to learn that the lovely and highly covetable bee bottle was inspired by the Napolean column at Place Vendome. You learn something new everyday at NST!!!

    • Kevin says:

      K-Scott: you’re welcome! That WAS an interesting bit of info on the column.

  16. Tama says:

    Thank you for this – I definitely want more colognes in my collection. I have always been a 4711 fan, and even Florida Water when I was younger. I have this itch to buy the Chanel Exclusif Cologne, but have that $200 doubt. I’ll have to try some of these, too – this sounds super-refreshing, but in SF I hardly ever need that kind of “so hot you’re sticky everywhere” relief. I’m sure I’ll figure something out. :-)

    • Kevin says:

      Tama: I’m sure you will! HA! I remember Florida Water…used to buy that for the pretty bottle alone.

  17. arexdeans says:

    Curiously, the notes, the lasting power, and everything else remind me of L’artisan Mandarine tout Simplement.

    • Kevin says:

      arexdeans: I”ve not tried that one….

      • arexdeans says:

        Robin has reviewed Mandarine tout Simplement. I’d definitely try Eau de Cologne Impériale next time I’m at Neiman Marcus. Thanks for this interesting review.

  18. shifts says:

    Ah, one of my favorites! I’ve been using it lavishly lately and I really need to get a new bottle. Staying power on me is better that expected. If I heat up the scented wrist with my breath, it can be smelled hours later. And sometimes that little sniff, is all I need.

    One of the things I really appreciate with Eau de Imperiale, is that dirty little secret it has. It is not all just clean and vibrant citrus, but it has something else. Something barely there, and not to be revealed for everyone to see.

    I just recently fell in love with Eau de Guerlain, which is a total different history, but oh my what a fragrance.

  19. Bela says:

    Sorry, Kevin, can’t respond to your post up there.

    When I was at school in La Belle France, we certainly weren’t told about that baby out of wedlock. Her husband wasn’t as clever as his uncle, that’s for sure.

  20. sayitisntso says:

    What a timely review, Kevin! I just picked up my first bottle of this two days ago. I was looking for an addition to my [refrigerated] summer eaux collection (which includes Chanel’s Eau de Cologne, Guerlain’s Eau de Fleur de Cedrat, AG’s Hadrien, & Monsieur de Givenchy) and I stumbled upon this. In terms of longevity, it’s not terrible – I get gentle whiffs of it throughout the day . It’s lovely..and I can’t believe I’m just discovering it.

    • Kevin says:

      Sayitisn’tso: better late than never-ever

  21. raluca says:

    Empress Eugenie (de Montijo) I think hes the record of the celebrity with the most fragrances she inspired:
    Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie by Creed
    1826 Eugenie de Montijo by Histoires de Parfums
    Eugenie by Rance
    Eau de Cologne Imperiale by Guerlain
    The interesting part is that those fragrances are completely different! I love JIE and 1826 smells like the old furniture in Versailles, it is dusty-heavy-patchouly, a real historical perfume. Rance is acqua melon and EdCI haven’t tried.
    Any other you know?

    • Kevin says:

      Raluca: not off the bat…I think people love her name! HA! And she was quite the clothes-horse…those great Winterhalter portraits.

  22. Zootgator says:

    I’m going to have to try this one, it sounds like summer heaven and you never know we might actually have one in the UK this year (it’s certainly been nice weather for the last week).

    Also ‘Bouquet de Duchesse’ is making me snicker like anything. I can just imagine what some Duchesses must have smelt like :)

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