Robert Piguet’s Bandit (1944, reforumated 1999) & Balmain’s Jolie Madame (1953, reforumated)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Perfumer Germain Cellier had two “daughters” who shared similar personalities. The elder one, whom no one really knew her real name, had a nickname, “Bandit” (by Robert Piguet, 1944), for her fearsome demeanour and untouchable “love it or hate it” beauty. I suspect Germain was secretly very proud of Bandit’s notoriousness. The younger one who was 9 years junior, lived a much more ordinary and subdued life; she had a softer feminine side, but still emitted a “don’t you dare to to take advantage of me” toughness. People called her Madame Jolie (by Balmain, 1953.)

Bandit and Jolie Madame are both leather-based perfumes for women. Although by today’s standard, it’s everyone’s game. Bandit is such an iconic perfume, it needs to be preserved in the world of perfumery. It has been “faithfully” reproduced by Aurelien Guichard of Robert Piguet, for anything less is really a waste of effort. It is a rather “hard to digest” perfume, and I vividly remember the moment I smelled it (one of my bravest blind-buys) – my brain was yelling “I can’t get a refund because I’ve opened the shrink-wrap,” and before my regret was fully formed, I died half-way crawling out of the car. But, I accepted fate, and slowly grew to appreciate and like it like hugging a porcupine. If you like Etat Libre D’Orange’s Rien, I don’t see why you would repel Bandit. It has a much more complex floral notes and your daily dose of three truck loads of leather.

Jolie Madame, on the other hand, is now discontinued and no one gives a damn. It’s a pity for it is a much more wearable perfume than Bandit (if you are chicken shit). It’s a half-and-half split between leather and violet leaves, quite soapy and doesn’t last long on my skin. If you go to Fragrantica to check out its notes breakdown, it is almost identical to Bandit, only the proportion of the ingredients used is different. I can imagine Jolie Madame being Grey Flannel’s wife.

If I ever want a perfume whiplash, I will wear Bandit. (Awesome during winter season!!) If I want a quickie of leather-violet leaf with a vintage smell, I will invite Jolie Madame for tea.

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Balmain’s Vent Vert (1947, reformulated 1991)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Vent Vert (1947) is one of those perfumes with a long history and is still available in the market. What it does not have is integrity and foresights from perfumers who were responsible for its reformations over the years. It has gone through at least three reformulations, and Luca Turin announces in his book that Vent Vert, is dead. If it is dead, Balmain reformulated the corpse one more time and has given it a new packaging and a new price tag, 75 Euros for 75ml instead of $50 for 100ml.

The bottle I have, I believe, is the 1999’s reformulation (the dead one), and it smells ok. Actually very good, but as I have read enough negative reviews, I do not dare to say it’s great. (Kind of like saying the latest Adam Sandler’s movie is great very loudly in a movie critics convention.) But I like it as is – a little bit green and bitterness, rosy and a little bit powdery, and I do not feel like spending more money trying to find the vintage vintage versions on eBay. But I can imagine the glory Vent Vert had had when it came out – “With its famous overdose of the ingredient galbanum, which imparts a bitter-green freshness to scents, Vent Vert is herbs, bent stems and roses.”, writes Barbara Herman in her book, Scent & Subversion. Let’s be complacent that I have the better version of Vent Vert at a greater price than the newest one.

P.S. Actually I have never smelled the newest one. I wonder if it is better?

[A reader has informed me that my bottle, in fact, is not the latest reformulation (which is dreadful), but a still good reformulation.]