Balmain‘s vintage Jolie Madame came in a variety of different bottles and packaging over the course of its lifetime, particularly in the case of the eau de toilette. The best era, in my opinion, was the 1950s to the mid or late 1970s because that’s when the formula was closest to Germaine Cellier’s original and truest to what she intended Jolie Madame to be. Consequently, that is the era which I’d suggest you look for. Today, I’ll try to give you a rough sense of how to assess what you see on eBay or Etsy based on things like box markings, bottle caps, batch codes, and more.
Let me start by saying that dating vintage fragrance bottles is not even remotely my area of expertise. Further, there is no detailed online guide that I’ve found which covers Balmain bottle and packaging differences over the decades.
What I’ll share with you today are not authoritative or definitive hard-and-fast rules but simply a few trends which I’ve gleaned after spending hours upon hours (upon hours!) perusing multiple listings and items on Etsy and eBay. Consider my observations a moderately educated guesstimate if you will.
Even as rough guidelines go, I want to warn you from the outset that the 1970s are challenging years in terms of consistency. From what I’ve gathered, at some point in the middle (?) or end (?) of the 1970s, Balmain began to use batch codes on its boxes. These were signified with an “EMB” abbreviation.
The reason why this is so relevant is that there is a very good likelihood, according to things that I’ve read, that Balmain also reformulated or re-reformulated Jolie Madame at that time. Now I’d guess that Balmain had reformulated the fragrance at least once, if not twice, during the years between 1953 and that 1970s EMB demarcation point because that is simply what all fragrance houses did and still do over the course of time. Every 5 to 7 years on average, they reformulate. Consequently, in order to try Jolie Madame in the version closest to the original, one should try to look for bottles without batch codes on their boxes.
There are other difficulties, too. Even if one finds a box without an EMB abbreviation, I’ve noticed some inconsistencies in other packaging information such as how Balmain’s brand name is listed or the cities associated with it such as Paris vs. Paris and London. Adding to my frustrating, I’m unclear as to what these differences signify in terms of dating and figuring out which part of the pre-reformulation 1970s period the bottle came from.
There’s something else as well: in all or almost all listings that I’ve seen, the batch code or EMB abbreviation was only listed on the box, not on any sticker on the bottle’s base. But a lot of sellers don’t have boxes to go with their bottles! So what do we do then? For the vintage eau de toilette (“EDT”), this is where things like cap colour, bottle base carvings, and atomiser vs splash formats become highly relevant. For the parfum, the darkness of juice colour and any possible markings etched into the bottle base are what you’ll want to look at.
Let’s look at photos to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about and the clues that you will want to look for.
THE VINTAGE EAU DE TOILETTE (1950s to the modern era):
A few days ago, I was thrilled to stumble across a 1950s bottle of Jolie Madame eau de toilette because I’d never seen one that old.
I quickly realized that it held a clue, too: the very first and oldest EDTs had black caps. Not gold, not cream, but black. This later proved significant, as you will see.
As the photo above demonstrates, the 1950s EDTs had a label placed in the center of the bottle and the brand name was written as “Balmain” not “Balmain Paris.” Both things would change in the 1960s onwards.
One possible 1950s alternate version to the bottle up above has the words “eau de toilette” replaced with “eau de Jolie Madame.” To wit:
I’ve seen two such bottles, both going for really expensive prices, both with carvings etched into the glass base, and both sellers have stated that they are the original (ie, first edition) formula from the 1950s. I don’t know. This is, again, not my area of knowledge. I simply wanted to alert you to the possibility in case you saw such a bottle and wondered if it was legit that, yes, it might be and it might indeed be really, really old.
As a general rule, most of the vintage EDTs that followed in subsequent decades had the same curving, rounded, or sloped shoulders as this original bottle. But every rule has exceptions, and Balmain muddied the waters somewhat by issuing some slightly different bottles for larger sizes in the 1960s. The best example is my own vintage splash EDT bottle that is roughly 200 mls or – as Balmain phrased it in the 1950s to mid-1970s pre-batch code era – “cc“s.
As a side note, a “Ref.” number is not the same thing as a batch code. Few to no perfume houses had batch codes in the 1960s; that typically became a thing in the 1970s.
I want to point out something on my box that eventually changes with later bottles or boxes. The brand name is written as “Parfums Pierre Balmain Paris.” If you see something like that on a package, I think the bottle will basically be a good vintage and, most likely, pre-1970s. (I think.)
As a side note, some of these larger gold-capped EDT bottles from the 1960s had a sort of cork seal under the cap.
I’m guessing that the cork is to prevent evaporation because all the vintage EDTs were splash bottles until the late 1970s (I think? Early 1980s?) when a spray or atomiser version was also launched and things became more inconsistent/complicated.
The vintage EDTs had words etched into the glass base. Mine merely says “Bottle Made in France,” but others include the words “Pierre Balmain” and occasionally even the bottle size. Compare my bottle’s base immediately below with that of another 1960s EDT.
While the really big gold-capped EDTs have their label in the center of the bottle, please be aware that the majority of the EDTs from the 1960s to the 1980s had their labels at the bottom of the bottle.
C. 1970s- Early to Mid (?):
Are you ready to enter the land of confusion? I’ll try to make this as straightforward and clear as possible, but I frequently find the 1970s to be a murky mess with some head-scratching inconsistencies.
When there is no box to guide you, the TL;DR nutshell is that you should look for an EDT with a black cap, sloping rounded shoulders, label on the bottom of the bottle, and in splash format – and just hope that you didn’t get a post-batch code reformulated version.
Let’s say you find a bottle with a box and there is no EMB abbreviation to indicate that it’s a post-reformulated 1970s, possibly 1980s, version. What might be on it? Well, for starters, the box will usually be grey-brown (leaning towards the brown side of the spectrum) and have Jolie “Madame” and “Eau de Toilette” written horizontally at the top of the box. It should not say “Natural Spray” or “Spray Mist,” as both those things came later, I believe, circa late 1970s and early 1980s when the atomisers were launched. It should look something like this.
Do you recall how the brand name on my 1960s EDT box was written as “Parfums Pierre Balmain Paris”? Well, now it’s changed to “Les Parfums Pierre Balmain.” The “Paris” has been removed and a “Les” has been added. It’s a slight change but one that signals the early 1970s, in my guesstimate.
The really critical thing about the text on the box, however, is that there is no EMB abbreviation between the “113 ml” and “113 cc” listings. Compare that photo to this one from an EDT that is also from the 1970s and, presumably, reformulated:
As you can see, everything has changed from what it was before in the 1960s and the early-to-mid 1970s, but there is no consistency between these two 1970s batch-code marked boxes in terms of the text, the measurement units (grams now?), the name of the house, or the cities listed.
D. Late 1970s, 1970s/80s, and/or 1980s:
Making matters messier still is the atomiser version of the EDT. I had initially thought that the spray version was launched at the start of the 1980s, but close perusal of old, completed listings on eBay and several Etsy ones suggests that spray version might have been launched at the end of the 1970s and around the time that Balmain began using batch codes. Let me show you what I’m talking about.
I’m not going to pretend I know the significance, if any, of these packaging differences. I will only say that, in my mind and for me personally, I’ve arrived at several short-hand codes:
- Beige cap = possibly late 1970s but definitely a 1980s thing as well.
- Atomiser or spray bottle, not splash = possibly late 1970s but most definitely a 1980s thing as well.
- Super busy, lengthy text on side of atomiser box = definitely a 1980s thing.
- The more the box colour skews to brown, the more likely it’s still from the 1970s.
- The more the box colour skews to dark grey, the more likely it’s from the 1980s.
These are not definitive, certain, or hard-and-fast guidelines, but they work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you, too, when it comes to this era of Jolie Madame.
Of course, the easiest thing of all is to try skip the weeds of the batch-code EMB era, but that isn’t always possible when the seller doesn’t have a box to accompany the EDT bottle.
E. Late 1980s or early 1990s to 2012/2014:
Remember when I said in Part I that I was hazy on Jolie Madame’s historical timeline? Well, it’s this period of time in particular.
At some point, Parfums Balmain sold the right to license and distribute its fragrances. I have the sense that the licensing rights were sold a few times, the last being in 2011, but when precisely the first transfer occurred I do not know. For some reason, I have the impression it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but I may well be mistaken.
Whoever took over and whenever this change happened, “New York” and “Made in the USA” began appearing on boxes and bottle base stickers. No more “Paris and London” and definitely no solitary “Paris” or “Made in France.”
Jolie Madame was discontinued at some point but, again, I do not know the exact date. I have the sense that it had to be after this other company took over the Balmain rights and distribution.
Some years later, Jolie Madame was brought back again. I believe it was at some point in the 2000s. There was new packaging to go with the new Jolie Madame; grey boxes with a very different placement of text and name but with the same sloping, rounded shoulders to the bottle. There was a squiggly “B” on both the bottle label and the box above the brand name. The latter was no longer “Balmain” or “Balmain Paris” but just “Pierre Balmain.”
As you can see, the bottle label is now in the center of the bottle, not the bottom, and its colour is grey. The cap is gold and circular, and there is a grey ribbon around the bottle neck.
At one stage, Calice Becker was brought in to re-reformulate (re-re-reformulate the reformulation?) Jolie Madame for the modern era. Calice Becker is a Givaudan nose who created Dior’s J’Adore, Velvet Orchid for TF, Tommy Girl, the cult hit Cuir de Lancome, several Kilian fragrances, and many other scents.
I’m not certain but I think it was at this point that the reformulated modern EDT changed bottle shape yet again, losing the historic sloped shoulders in favour of a square body, a clear round cap, and grey tassels. The text and the position of text on the box changed as well.
The revitalised “Pierre Balmain”/Balmain brand seemed to be doing well enough in 2011 to ink a 12-year deal in 2011 with InterParfums for the production and distribution of its fragrances. The fragrances apparently posted substantial sales from 2012 to 2014, but then things took a downturn.
This is when I think the modern Jolie Madame was discontinued. To be precise, I’m pretty sure it was dead and buried by 2014 at the latest. I saw on Fragrantica and other sites that its fans were bemoaning how difficult it was to find any (remaining) bottles in the years that followed.
By 2017, Balmain’s fragrance fortunes suffered enough that the InterParfums deal was terminated by mutual consent far in advance of its 2024 expiration date.
There have been no further Balmain releases since then.
You can find the modern (re-re-re-re-to-the-nth-degree) reformulated EDT on eBay but, I have to ask, why would you want it? The pre-IFRA vintage formulae will always be better and would also give you the oakmoss that no Givaudan-reimagined composition is likely to have.
THE VINTAGE PARFUM (1950s to 1970s/80s):
Determining the age of a vintage Jolie Madame extrait is a walk in the park as compared to the EDT, so this won’t take very long.
First things first: my general rule of thumb is “the darker the juice, the older the bottle.” Here, the more the parfum juice colour skews to mahogany or almost black, the more likely the formula hews to Germaine Cellier’s original with all its birch tar, castoreum, and oakmoss.
A. The 1950s:
Take, for example, this gorgeous vintage 1/2 oz, 14 ml parfum with almost black-looking juice that is currently being offered on eBay (with shipping to most places worldwide) until someone snaps it up. Look at the colour of the juice but also the detailed etched markings on the base of the bottle. This has to be a 1950s version!
Here is another 1950s extrait with a similarly dark colour but it’s 1 oz in size and listed on Etsy:
Balmain issued a few mini bottles of both the eau de toilette and the parfum. I believe this anomalous design is for a 1950s mini parfum:
B. The 1960s:
The 1960s parfum juice is slightly less dark. Sometimes, and depending on photo lighting, the liquid looks a shade redder and more chestnut-y in hue. You can see what I mean below. As a side note, several of the parfums from the 1960s to (early?) 1970s came in a peachy-taupe-brown fabric “presentation box,” as some sellers call it.
Typically, the 1960s parfum has a “B” carved into the top of black cap.
In addition, these parfums have the same etched glass base of the 1950s original, though I’ve seen a one or two which do not. (My guess is that the sellers might be mistaken in claiming the bottles are from the 1960s?) This is the base of one 1960s parfum:
With regard to the 1960s packaging, I’m unclear as to whether the peachy-brown fabric “presentation box” (as it is typically described in listings) was a special thing, if it was inside an external brown Balmain box in the typical brown paper packaging, or both.
I can tell you, however, that the earliest 1960s ones used “cc” as a measurement unit for the size of the bottle, had “Paris” and “Made in France” text on them, and the house name was listed as “Balmain.”
This packaging continued into the 1970s, though when precisely the marking and text changed in the 1970s I do not know.
B. The 1970s – pre-EMB years & post:
In the 1970s, the colour of the parfum juice turns more orange-red-cognac in hue, like mine. The bottle remains unchanged. The external box is typically brown. The name of the house varies on the box. The unit of measurement for the bottle varies, too, often in “ml” as well as “cc” but sometimes in “oz” instead.
The 1970s presentation box above says “Pierre Balmain Paris” on its black base, while my brown box (below) reads “Les Parfums Pierre Balmain” on its back.
My guess based upon what I saw with the EDT boxes is that the “Les Parfums Pierre Balmain” indicate an early part of the 1970s while the “Pierre Balmain Paris” is for the middle 1970s, though still pre-EMB batch code and 1970s reformulation. The addition of the very modern “oz” unit of size for the first time adds to my feeling that it’s from a later or newer date. Look closely at the following two photos:
All of these are pre-EMB batch code boxes and bottles, so they are prior to any reformulation (first or second) of the formula.
This is what Jolie Madame’s packaging looks like with the batch code on it:
The batch code for this bottle is: 58560.
What’s confusing to me is that the brand has returned once again to calling itself “Les Parfums Pierre Balmain.” There is absolutely no rhythm or reason as far as I can tell to the name changes in the 1970s (early 1980s?). Nor do I know the significance in terms of dates or years.
Similarly, I do not know what it means when the location changes from “Paris” by itself to “Paris London.” My personal feeling is that the addition of “London” corresponds to the early 1980s but, honestly, who really knows?
The whole thing gives me a headache. Spare yourself a similar one by buying the oldest, pre-EMB box and bottle that you can afford, even if it’s just a mini.
PRICES, EBAY, ETSY, & LINKS:
There are some good deals to be found on vintage Jolie Madame if you’re patient.
It’s been roughly 8 years or so since I bought my 1960s EDT in a large, 90% full, 200 ml (6.8 oz) bottle on eBay, so I can’t recall its exact price but I think it was around $60 to possibly $70. Even for 2014, that was wildly cheaper for the size than modern niche prices.
I bought my mini 4ml 1970s parfum mostly for the purposes of this review, so I wasn’t looking to spend much. I paid around $26 which I thought was rather a bargain for an aged extrait until I saw the gorgeous, mahogany-coloured 1950s extrait in a 14 ml size that I posted earlier going for $115. Given the incredible age and the fact that it’s an almost untouched bottle of the 1st generation formula, somehow that seems like a steal to me.
Typically, the eBay prices that I’ve seen lately for the vintage parfums range from $98 to $350, depending on size and age. The mini parfum bottles, however, often go for under $50. Their size is usually 4 ml (1/7th of an oz).
The current prices for the vintage eau de toilette range from $55 to $275, depending on size and age. Right now, there is an almost full vintage 1970/1980s (?) beige cap spray or atomiser bottle in an 85 ml or 2.8 oz size going for $67, excluding shipping. The black-capped splash EDT bottles go for more. In the case of the gold-capped 1960s EDT like mine, a much smaller size (3.8 oz or 85 ml, not 6.8 oz or 200 ml) is currently going for $275. As I said, you might need to be patient.
My advice is to turn on notifications for any new eBay listings that are added so that you won’t miss out if a bargain comes on the market.
Etsy also had parfum bottles that left me salivating, though they’re typically larger in size and so more expensive. If you’re unfamiliar with Etsy, I think it’s a great site for vintage fragrances, and there are some extremely reputable expert sellers who focus on nothing else. As a rough rule of thumb, the listings may be fewer in number, but I’ve found that many of them are typically older, larger, and rarer bottles. I’m thinking of one woman, for example, whose store name I cannot now recall, who always had the most astounding and astoundingly old fragrance treasures. I recall seeing Guerlain bottles from the 1890s or 1910s, Guerlains I’d previously never heard of, super old Chanel parfums, and so much more.
Etsy sellers are located around the world. Pre-Brexit, I found that many of the British and American ones seem to have fewer issues with shipping across the Atlantic than their eBay counterparts. I don’t know if that remains the case when it comes to shipping to and from the UK. Somehow, I doubt it.
Long story short, don’t overlook or forget about Etsy when you’re looking for a vintage treasure.
I’ve probably overwhelmed you with details at this point and, truth be told, I’m well on my way to being glassy-eyed and cross-eyed myself, so I’ll cut this treatise short and simply say that, if I’ve tempted you to try vintage Jolie Madame, I’m glad and “happy hunting!”