It’s early summer, and everything around me seems to be vibrating in intense shades of my favorite color. And while I know that some of us are suffering in parching heat, where I live we have been fortunate to have warm but not extreme temperatures, punctuated by brief inundations of summer rain, making all of the plants and trees–and me–very, very happy indeed.
So this is the time to wear my favorite green perfumes, and luckily we are experiencing a resurgence of green notes in perfumery so there are some new ones to explore. But I’m very hard to please when it comes to green perfumes, since every new green perfume has to be measured up against my benchmark green, Germaine Cellier’s Vent Vert (1947) for Balmain. I’ve read that the concentration of galbanum in the original Vent Vert was very high, and I love how it sings out true, clear, and invigorating. The direct hit of galbanum might feel linear at first, but vintage Vent Vert gradually softens and unfolds other facets–rose, gardenia, oakmoss, and sandalwood–stand out the most for me.
I have devoted a lot of time to seeking out vintage Vent Vert wherever I can find it, and I know this is a fool’s errand in many ways because Vent Vert is a subtle and not particularly long-lasting composition, one that has been subjected to a lot of tinkering over the years. So far, I have been looking for the original Vent Vert–not the 1991 Calice Becker reformulation (the one topped with a green plastic plume) and not the 199 Nathalie Feisthauer reformulation (the one topped with a silver golf ball). Christos has already posted an excellent guide to these two versions (http://fragrancedaily.com/balmain-vent-vert-1991-and-1999-formulations-the-question-of-sameness/)
Meanwhile, here are my elderly Vent Verts, gathered for a family photo:
As usual, the best perfume of all is the oldest, the vintage extrait on the left, but the “Eau de Vent Vert,” probably from the 1960’s and clad in its strange green felt coat, is surprisingly complex and long lasting. The EDT’s, probably from the 1980’s, are very good too, but the vintage perfume mini is of uncertain age and virtually no longevity or depth. These minis can be found for sale in suspiciously large numbers, so caveat emptor.
Although Cellier was always innovative, I still wonder how she came to compose Vent Vert, a shockingly green perfume, the first of its kind and the archetype of a new perfume genre. In the 1960’s, Vent Vert was advertised with a rather demure tagline as “A haunting echo of the forests and ferns of France,” a slogan suggestive of a woodland perfume suitable for Gallic sprites rather than the bracing composition that I know and love. Of course, there is certainly some relationship between Vent Vert and masculine mossy fougeres and hesperidic colognes of the same period, but those gentlemanly toilet articles were restrained and gentled by vanilla, lavender, or oakmoss. No other perfume of the 1930’s or 40’s, marketed to men or women, had anything like the intense galbanum opening of Vent Vert. I can see how Vol de Nuit (1933), with its highly unusual-for-a-Guerlain galbanum opening could also be part of the distant ancestry of Vent Vert. I can imagine Cellier thinking that she could lighten and sharpen the whole effect of Vol de Nuit to create a new type of perfume–strongly green, slightly floral, with a delicate base of woods. Two indispensable feminine chypres from the 1940’s – Carven’s Ma Griffe (1944) by Jean Carles and Dior’s Miss Dior (1947) by Paul Vacher and Jean Carles–use galbanum to add a new and to me, very welcome, tautness and backbone to the chypre structure, thereby making the aboriginal chypres such as Chypre de Coty (1917) and Millot’s Crepe de Chine (1925) feel as soft and as tender as faded green vintage silk velvet. And it is clear that Cellier must have had a thing for galbanum, since her 1944 composition for Piguet, Bandit–a endlessly compelling and precise alignment of green, floral, chypre, and leather notes–also foregrounds the bitter green resin. I treasure my vintage bottles of all of these perfumes and wear them often, and still Vent Vert seems like a bolt of green lightning to me. About twenty years ago, I experienced a summer hailstorm in Colorado that turned my carefully nurtured garden into a pulp of flowers, stems, and tomato leaves in about a minute. When I ventured out to assess the disaster, the air smelled of electricity and vegetal greenness, a lot like Vent Vert.
There are signs that green scents are a new direction in perfumery, and Vent Vert is usually cited as the reference for these perfumes. I always check out these new greens, and I find that some do provide a wonderful experience of fresh greenness.
I had high hopes for Monsillage’s Eau du Celeri (2014) by the talented Isabelle Michaud. Its opening comes closest to fulfilling my desire for a readily available replacement for vintage Vent Vert, but unfortunately, Eau du Celeri vanishes very quickly on my skin.
I’ve already praised Apoteker Tepe’s Anabasis (2016) by Holladay Saltz on Fragrance Daily (http://fragrancedaily.com/three-perfumes-from-apotoker-tepe/) and I am still enjoying it. Anabasis has more citrus in its opening minutes than Vent Vert, but it grows more intensely green as it develops wafting shiso, wet cement, snapped stems. The shiso note in Anabasis is a wonderfully realistic update to the familiar herbal bouquet, and Anabasis lasts quite well, even on my perfume-absorbing skin, retaining its green character until the end.
Two perfumes in Victor Wong’s Zoologist Perfumes line feature galbanum and greenery – Paul Kiler’s Panda (2014) and Sarah McCartney’s Macaque (2016). Of the two, I prefer Macaque. In its first minutes, Panda has an off-putting, medicinal-metallic aquatic sharpness, and not much galbanum to my nose, but if you linger, you can experience an unusual smell of clean wet freshcut wood layered with exotic leaves. Panda has hardly any flowers or fruits to my nose. In Macaque, citrus fruits obscure any perceptible galbanum in its opening. It dries down to faintly bittersweet, pleasantly woody musk.
And finally, I keep returning to Daniela Andrier’s forward-looking 2010 composition for Martin Margiela, (untitled), which starts off with some distinct galbanum and then shifts to softly smoky frankincense, with a drop of savory soy sauce, a delicate florality and some discreet modern woods. One could argue that (untitled) is more of a transparent and updated Bandit, rather a new Vent Vert, but it’s a wonderful perfume either way.