Leather, smoke and violet chypre. Oh my.
I was 14 when I discovered my signature scent, although I didn’t know it then.
I saw the half full bottle of Jolie Madame sitting on the bathroom sink of a hastily abandoned house in the woods of Bucks County, Pennsylviania. My parents had bought the place cheaply after a couple had divorced and wanted to dump it. When we walked in, the house looked like a ravaged marriage gone deeply wrong. Closets were flung open, clothes was scattered, the kitchen had strange leftovers and half filled bottles of booze.
What kind of woman leaves her perfume behind? I lifted the Jolie Madame to my nose and was not prepared for such a scent.
Balmain’s Jolie Madame, debuted in 1953. This “leather fragrance,” was created by one of the first female master parfumeurs, Germaine Cellier, who “didn’t fool around.” She was an iconoclast who eschewed the usual sweet, flirty scents of the day.
Madame Cellier invented a new kind of perfume: dangerous. I had bumped into an acrid, leathery scent far too mature and complex for teenybopper me. Jolie Madame had to do with love, sex, disappointment. I felt it contained a roadmap into the mysterious world of womanhood I was about to enter.
I wore it as a promise and an armor. It gave me courage. When I finished the bottle, I bought another and have been wearing it ever since. Over the years it has been reformulated and the color and packaging have changed. Today, except for a few shops in Paris, it is only found on the internet.
As I live in Tropica, there are days when Jolie Madame seems too heavy. Sometimes I crave a sunny, fruity fragrance, such as Calyx. It’s sweet, so one spritz suffices but it has my favorite quality: indefinable.
But this is not a perfume ad. It is the story of a teenager, alone in an abandoned bathroom, discovering something that would accompany her for the rest of her life. Jolie Madame is the woman I have become.
We all have mysterious, turning point moments in our lives. What’s yours?
Do you have a signature scent? I’d love to learn what everyone is wearing out there.
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