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.
Balmain‘s vintage Jolie Madame — an exquisite chypre that turns into a softly animalic floral leather then into a suede-like floral — was created by the legendary Germaine Cellier but it is not one of her creations that I hear people commonly talk about, unlike Bandit, Fracas or, to a comparatively lesser extent, Vent Vert. That’s a shame because I think that Jolie Madame has a heartbreaking tenderness and delicacy which I find largely missing in those bolder, more operatic masterpieces. In essence, Jolie Madame is like Chopin or Vivaldi, not Wagner or Beethoven.
“Germaine Cellier would have loved this.” That was the thought that kept coming to mind when I tried L’Eau Scandaleuse, a floral leather that is oh so much more. It is a deceptively simple scent at first glance, but a closer look reveals a fragrance that cuts a swathe through different perfume genres and gender profiles to end up as an androgynous, genderless leather in a fashion that I think Germaine Cellier, the legendary creator of Bandit and Fracas, would very much appreciate. It also marries the best of French classicism and the Haute Parfumerie divaesque style with a radiant lightness the belies the heft and richness of its notes to feel very modern. The juxtapositions and transitions are seamless; the overall result sophisticated and bold. It’s a far better release than many things I’ve smelt this year from famous noses, but L’Eau Scandaleuse comes from a self-taught, former perfumer blogger which makes it all the more impressive to me. Continue reading
“There are perfume legends, there are perfumer legends, and then there are perfumes that become obsessions. Fracas is all three, which is a hat trick less common that you’d think.”
Thus begins The New York Times‘ review for Fracas. It is a five-star review by the highly respected perfume critic, Chandler Burr, for a perfume that he rates as “transcendent.” And I couldn’t agree more. [Clarification: this post and piece is about vintage Fracas, both the very original versions and late 1990s Fracas, not the horribly mangled, modern reformulations.]
As a very small child of six or seven, and one already obsessed with perfume, there were two fragrances that I loved above all others: YSL’s Opium and Robert Piguet‘s Fracas. Out of the vast array of expensive French bottles littering my mother’s mise à toilette, out of all the Lalique jars and containers filled with various mysterious, adult things, out of all the things that made being a woman seem so fun and magical, there was really only Opium and Fracas that mattered to me. It was the 1970s, we lived in Cannes in a villa on the side of the mountain, overlooking the whole city below. There were exciting and often turbulent things going on, new things to explore, and make-believe adventures to be had. And, yet, I was always drawn back to that table. To be honest, it was primarily for the Opium which is still, to this day, my favorite perfume in all the world (in vintage version). But Fracas was a close second.
It was the empress of all white scents. It was a perfume that, as I recall, brought every man who passed by my mother to a stumbling, stuttering halt as they wondered what was that marvelous, incredible, hypnotic smell. It was a scent that I always thought was exuberantly joyful and happy, but which seemed to seduce whomever came within ten feet of it. It seemed like some cloud of happy white magic, all in one jet black bottle. It was the perfume worn by Marilyn Monroe (when she wasn’t wearing Chanel No. 5), Rita Hayworth, and Brigitte Bardot. And its modern die-hard fans range from such polar opposites as: Madonna to Martha Stewart, Ivana Trump to Courtney Love, Princess Caroline of Monaco to Bianca Jagger. It intoxicated them all. And it intoxicated a tiny seven-year old, too.