Spring: An Embarrassment of Riches

 Redbud in the Morning Sun

My scent wardrobe is, like the climate in which I live, very seasonal.  We have weather distinct from one season to the next, and it can range from below 0F in winter, with snow and wind and hail, to 98F in summer, hot and practically humid enough to grow mushrooms on your skin.  The most comfortable seasons in this area tend to be spring and fall, with moderate temperatures and cool breezes and sunshine, though we certainly get plenty of rain (the average annual rainfall in my county is approximately 38 inches).

There are certain fragrances I wear at just about any time of the year, perennial go-tos.  There are other fragrances I associate with certain seasons or weathers, and I never think of wearing them at other times.  I love changing my fragrance with the season – I bring them out of the perfume cabinet and place them in the decorative hatbox on my dresser for easy access, and tenderly stow away the out-of-season back in the cabinet.  I try to wear my seasonal fragrances when they are in season, appreciating each  one like a beautiful day, though choosing among them is often a challenge.

Winter is easy: Alahine.  Ubar, Lyric, Memoir. Tiny dribble of Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant, if the weather is cold and damp.  Carnal Flower or La Myrrhe, if the air is so cold it turns to crystal.  Dolce Vita parfum.  Parfum Sacre. Vanille Tonka.    

Autumn is easier: Tabac Aurea, always. Champagne de Bois, Organza Indecence. Shalimar Light.  Vintage Magie Noire, if the weather is just right: cold, rainy, windy.  Smell Bent One.

Summer is easiest, with the fewest season-devoted scents: Fleur de Matin, Hanae Mori Haute Couture.  Ines de la Fressange first edition. Moschino Funny!, Rose d’Ete.

But spring?  Spring is hard.  I hate choosing in spring.  Green scents?  Violets? Lily of the valley?  Green florals, floral chypres, straight-up florals?  There are so many, and I love them all, and they all say “spring” to me in some way.

What to choose? And how to make sure nothing gets left out?  I still don’t know.  I have no real plan, I just get up and pick something to delight in.  Some favorites for spring:

Crown Perfumery Crown Bouquet – “the greenest of all flower gardens.”  A big green juicy smack of galbanum and marigold gives way to very, very tender white flowers, from a wisp of tuberose to a hint of lily of the valley.

Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – a shifting green-and-gold symphony like sunlight dripping through green leaves.  Galbanum, green notes, narcissus, hyacinth, patchouli, moss and woods combine to create the essence of happiness for me.

Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve – this long-discontinued, much-coveted floral chypre gem gleams like good pearls.  Very elegant yet gentle, with a powdery softness due to aldehydes and oakmoss, it is a reserved and quiet pleasure.

Jacomo Silences – cool, silver-green perfection.  Contemplative, streamlined, nothing extraneous at all.  Satin ribbons of galbanum, iris, rose, oakmoss.

Penhaligon’s Violetta – simplicity itself: green leaves, purple flowers, a whisper of sandalwood.  Shy but lovely.

DSH Perfumes White Lilac – the true delight of lilac sweetness, garnished only with a handful of leaves and a sprinkling of spice.  A joyful scent.

Guerlain Chamade – the essence of romance, it slowly blooms from chilly green opening to the budding jasmine-ylang-rose heart and on to the full-blown warmth of mimosa and vanilla in the drydown.  A perfume for surrender. 

Balmain Jolie Madame, in vintage parfum – a gorgeous juxtaposition of green notes, violet and gardenia against smooth leather.  Bittersweet in the best sense.

Chanel No. 19 – the Seven-League Boots of pure beauty and empowerment.  Galbanum, iris, oakmoss, and a whiff of leather, elegance with a riding crop.

Parfums DelRae Amoureuse – Languorous and vibrant all at once, with green notes, richly sensuous white florals, spicy notes, and honey set against a slightly-mossy sandalwood background. 

Christian Dior Diorissimo – the essence of spring, in the form of lilies of the valley.  That is all.  And it is spectacular.

What’s on your spring list?

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Vintage Venture Perfume Review: Balmain Jolie Madame

I’m hoping that this will be the first of many reviews of vintage fragrances, since I’ve collected so many miniature vintage scents (no, you really don’t want to  know how many!), and they’re so different from everything else currently available, even niche fragrances.  Look for a post soon on “falling down the vintage rabbit hole.”

Jolie Madame, composed by the acclaimed Germaine Cellier, she of Vent Vert and Bandit and Fracas, was released by the couture house of Pierre Balmain in 1953.  It is a classic, and thus squarely in my testing sights.  I’d read numerous reviews on Basenotes and Fragrantica and perfume blogs, and Tania Sanchez’ review in Perfumes: The Guide had further piqued my interest.  A sample sat on my Perfumed Court wishlist for several months, while I debated with myself.  I’d already tested Chanel Cuir de Russie and found it just too hideous for words, but then my darling  Seven-League Boots vintage No. 19 had discernible leather in its base, and I loved that… should I test Jolie Madame, or not bother?  I considered.  I waffled.  I temporized.

I considered the notes again, and waffled once more.  I couldn’t make sense of them.  Artemisia? Castoreum?  With gardenia?  Weird.  Freaky.  And everybody said, It’s got violets.  They’re not listed in the official notes, but they’re there.  Well… violets, you say?  And leather?  I don’t knooow, I said, doubtfully.

Notes for Jolie Madame, from Fragrantica:  Top notes are artemisia, coriander, gardenia, neroli and bergamot; middle notes are tuberose, narcissus, orris root, jasmine and rose; base notes are leather, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss and vetiver. 

But after reading Angela’s lovely review of Jolie Madame on Now Smell This, I rushed right over to eBay to troll for a small bottle.  The only one I could find was  a micromini bottle, clearly old and only half-full.  It was the same price as a sample of vintage extrait at TPC, so I bought it.  When it arrived, the bottle was about an inch tall, and the juice inside was a dark yellow-amber, the color of good iced tea – maybe a milliliter and a half in there, I surmised.  It looked oily.  I unscrewed the metal cap and carefully eased off the plastic stopper inside, oh so sloooowly… dang!  One drop fell from the stopper onto my good white shirt.  Hope it doesn’t stain! I thought.  And then I took a good sniff.

Oh, my.

My mouth fell open, and I kept breathing it in.  Oh.  Oh, my.  I’d never smelled anything like this before: a bitter, crushed-stems herbal green, and sweet fresh flowers, and somewhere in the background the intoxicating smell of my first leather briefcase.  Oh, my.  It smelled like mossy green and bright brown and orchid purple, startling and lovely, both eerie and entirely natural.  It was like the face in that Jolie Madame ad: all angular bones, soft lips, and haunting deep eyes.  That one drop carried me six hours on a cloud of wonder.  It was stunning.  I only had a tiny, tiny bit.  I wanted more

So I went immediately back to ebay and set up one of those automatic searches for “vintage jolie madame,” and monitored it vigilantly for six months, eventually scoring two more partially-used, quarter-ounce bottles of extrait, a full eighth-ounce bottle in a set of ten different classic scents in parfum, and a larger bottle of (possibly) 1990’s-era EdT.    My extrait bottles look like the ones in the picture above: plain rectangular glass with an incised B on the round brown cap, with the label rakishly set on the corner.  The packaging is a clever twist on a simple structure – even though the bottles are plain and the labels just white lettering on brown paper, the diagonal application is like a proper hat set at a flirty angle.  It bats its eyelashes and says, “I am stylish.  I am tway, tway Fwansh. You know you want me.”   Well… yes.  Yes, I do. 

Each one of the bottles of extrait smells different.  The tiny one smells the most heavenly to me, because its florals are so fresh and green next to the leather that, as Angela puts it, it’s as if you broke into a florist’s shop and shoved all the blooms you could grab into your nice leather handbag.  Yes, that’s it exactlyflowers and stems and the softly pungent smell of good suede.  One bottle smells mostly of leather and sharp herbal greens, with an overlay of jasmine.  Another bottle smells of gardenia, violets, and leather briefcase, with a bit of citrus (bergamot?)  in the top which is not apparent in my other bottles.  The small bottle from the collection is lovely but a little bit schizophrenic, with lots of green herbs followed by violets, and then an astringent, vetiverlike leather.  You get Bitter, then Sweeeet, then Bitter again.  It’s utterly fascinating, a sandwich cookie of Freakishly exaggerated and Pretty in the middle

The various bottles of extrait all last varying lengths of time on skin, from about three hours to six.  I think this variation must be a function of age – that tiny bottle seems the most concentrated, probably due to evaporation.  Sillage is very gentle.

My EdT bottle looks like this.  (Apparently it had belonged to an elderly woman who’d gone into a nursing home, and her niece was selling some of her aunt’s china knickknacks, purses and bottles of perfume, so I don’t actually know how old it is. I just know it’s not the current packaging.)  I admit to tossing the goofy white bow, because it made cap removal and replacement fiddly, and also because it just looks dumb.  This is a hideous bottle, I think – all the charm of the classic Balmain packaging is gone.  Round shoulders, gilded-plastic cap, plain gray paper label; the appearance adds up to Insipid and Boring.  Hmph.  It’s all the more ridiculous because the fragrance inside the EdT bottle is sharply tailored, no-nonsense, Invisible Armor and don’t you forget I’m in charge! in a way that the extrait is not.  Weird the extrait may be, with its stark contrasts between green herbs, gardenia and violet, and leather, but it isn’t as aggressive as the EdT.  I wear the EdT on days when I need extra backbone.  To be honest, I’d contradict the P:TG reviews – Jolie Madame in EdT is the heartless one, not Chanel No. 19.  The EdT lasts about four hours on me (on the long side of my average experience with most EdTs), and throws a little more sillage than the extrait.  In fact, it’s a little more sillage than I usually like, but when I’m wearing the EdT, I don’t feel like being nicey-nice and polite, so that’s all to the good.

(I stay away from The CEO on those days, too – he really dislikes the EdT of Jolie Madame.  He doesn’t care much for the extrait, either, but it is softer and wears closer to the skin.  Sometimes I’ll layer a dab of some sweet violet thing like Soivohle Violets & Rainwater or Goutal La Violetta next to the extrait,  just to tone down the bitterness, and he doesn’t seem to mind that combination.)

I’d never have guessed how much I would love the old Jolie Madame (“pretty lady” in French, which seems a bit inadequate to describe how it really smells).  Love leather? Me?  But I do.  I treasure my little bottles of extrait, only wearing it when I can devote some time to enjoying the experience.  It is really beautiful. 

I have not smelled the modern version, which I understand is somewhat thinner and brighter but not entirely ruined by reformulation.  If you’ve smelled what they’re currently putting out in that very-elegant rectangular bottle as well as the vintage, please share.  (Oh, and if you’re concerned about my favorite white shirt – it survived.  The stain came out, but the shirt carried a faint whiff of Jolie Madame for weeks.)

Besides the Now Smell This review mentioned above, here are some other reviews of Jolie Madame:  Bois de JasminMarch at Perfume Posse,  Grain de Musc (brief mention), Olfactarama (brief mention), Sweet DivaPerfume Shrine, Yesterday’s Perfume.

Top Image: Jolie Madame from Parfum de Pub, via NST.  Second Image: Colors Perfumes and Tastes of the Wood by Giancarlo Mella at flickr.com.  Third Image: Jolie Madame from salenetone at ebay.

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