My signature scent

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.

Top notes: artemisia, coriander, gardenia, neroli, bergamot, petitgrain and cloves.  Middle notes: tuberose, narcissus, orris root, jasmine, rose, orange blossom, violet leaf and lilac. Base notes: leather, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss, vetiver, cedar and tobacco.


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.

jolieAs 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.

Top notes: grapefruit, mandarin, passion fruit, mango, guava, green leaves and papaya. Heart: lily of the valley, freesia, neroli, lily, rose, marigold and jasmine. Base: oak moss, sandalwood, orris and vetiver.


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.

xo  Liza


Hello my lovelies!  I hope you are well.  Do chime in, in the comment box below.  Comments are the best part of Camp Liza!  Please like or share this post via the clever buttons below.  And if you haven’t already, enter your email in the box above so you won’t miss a thing.


11 thoughts on “My signature scent

  1. Clinique Aromatics Elixir. When I was living in Vancouver in the late 1980s, my favorite scent was Norelle. Then I couldn’t find it anymore. I tried Clinique Aromatics Elixir at their counter and loved it and bought it. Then I wore it to work, and my boss (who I hated) hated the new scent, so I knew it was a winner. I have been wearing it ever since. It’s savory, not sweet. I feel totally together and in control when I wear it; a total mess without it. It gives me confidence and I love how it smells. This was a sort of turning point in my life, although there have been others…but that’s another story! PS. When I feel the need for something light and tropical, I splash on Jean Nate after-bath-splash instead. It still comes in that big plastic bottle with the black ball on the top, it’s available at Walmart, and it’s still really inexpensive!

    1. Aromatics Elixir is another complicated scent. I read about the history of it, tried it, and couldn’t make friends. The fact that it is your go to…makes even all the more interesting, Juanita!! And Jean Nate — oh my — such memories of my teenage years. xo

  2. Ah, Jean Nate…my father’s signature scent! Seriously, he loved cologne and for some reason that was one of his favorites. My grandmother always wore Jungle Gardenia. My mom loved Ivoire by Balmain, Opium and Youth Dew. I was a fickle fragrance fan–I fell in love with L’Aire du Temps, then moved on to Eternity, flirted with Guerlain (can’t remember which), then discovered Penthaligen’s Lily and Spice–now sadly discontinued. I just started wearing Jo Malone Nectarine Blossom. I do love a spicy floral, sometimes a citrusy floral, but nothing too heavy or Oriental. Never did like Chanel or Yves St Laurent. But what about fragrance on a man? Sadly my beloved doesn’t like after shave–but I do, in light doses. except–can’t abide Polo or too much cologne on a man.

    1. I love hearing about your fragrance journey. I like Jo Malone …but her colognes don’t last long on me, they fade away quickly. What is your experience?

  3. I got a whiff of a friend of a friend at a party who was wearing the most elegant, complicated scent I had ever smelled. It was called Bois Noir from Chanel and the next morning I ran to Bullock’s Wilshire in L.A. and forked over whatever outrageous amount they charged oh so willingly. Bullock’s Wilshire, that bastion of Art Deco retail is now a law school (where my little brother attended!), and Bois Noir has been slightly altered (for the worse in my opinion, must have been the costly ingredients) and re-named Egoiste.

    Like you, Liza, (who is the very reason I am living in the same tropical environment… long story), I found that my Chanel scent REALLY “blossomed” here, and was overpowered myself by it, and had to find something lighter but still great and, as you say, complex. I tried Eau d’Orange Verte by Hermes at Luxury Avenue in Playa del Carmen, and that has been my favorite for the past 12 years. But every once in a while, when I want a really good night’s sleep, I’ll spritz a spritz of Bois Noir right before bed, and dream complex, passion driven French fantasies, and wake up refreshed.

  4. As a teenager it was ‘Charlie’ L’Air du Temps and Anais Anais. Then it was all about Opium in the early 8o’s. Onto Agent Provocateur in the 90’s until they changed it a few years ago. I now wear Tom Ford Plum Japonais, Balmain Ambre Gris and Miller Harris Feuilles de Tabac – all masculine woody scents. Same for my home scents… RL St Germain, Diptique Feu de Bois my absolute favs.
    Summertime I may wear a Hermes light scent or a vanilla based scent.

  5. I imagine you were all too young to remember when “Canoe”, a men’s fragrance, got popular with the girls…
    I went heavy early, when I discovered Cabochard by Grès. Wore the lighter cologne from college through the late 80’s, and had a perfume flask (yes, flask with crystal top) that I still have today. And it is still a go-to on certain ocassions…
    Then I diddledaddled for a while… I remember Samsara…
    I rely on Guerlains’ “Mandarine Basilic” on days when I need a lift, I bought it duty-free on an Air France trip to Egypt 7 years ago, and good thing…my suitcases caught up with me 3 days later!
    Now, from a freebie my daughter got from Sephora (remember spending money on makeup???)
    I think I like Cartier’s La Panthère…let’s see how we get along. Please note that a “panthére” is not a cougar…:)

    1. Thank you for reminding me about Canoe!!! It was highly popular in high school. Wow! Memory lane!!! Again, there are some new fragrances for me to discover in your fragrance journey.

  6. My grandmother gave me her “free gift”, a solid perfume compact of Chantilly when I was about 14 and I fell in love with it. In my 30s I started wearing Channel 19 and stayed with that for years. And finally, for the past 20 or more years I’ve been wearing a much lighter fragrance, Lauren by Ralph Lauren. A dear friend wore it and I always admired it and I get compliments on it regularly. She moved on but I’m still using it daily. I haven’t really started the day until I give myself a spritz. I do it for myself! It always gives me a lift.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *