‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’ was once engraved above the gates of Hades. Forget you lived, forget who you were, drown yourself in the waters of Lethe, for you are…no more. You most beloved of all my adored fragrance families, you who gave me confidence at an age when I sorely needed it, you whose memory alone I can conjure from a moment and a fleeting glimpse of past joys and frayed hopes hanging by one mortal, gossamer thread…you are, alas, no more, and shall be mourned…forever more.
Excuse me while I mop my bitter tears with the last remains of my Kleenex box, but you don’t understand…I loved it so, I still do, and I always, always will.
Famous last words. Watch me eat them one at a time.
Once, when women were womanly and weren’t afraid to show it, when individuality was prized and perfumes had taglines like ‘Not for self-effacing women’, Green…was Queen. These were the days of take-no-prisoners green chypres and the spine-enhancing attitudes they conveyed on their wearers, these were the days when galbanum and hyacinth boogied down and dirty with oakmoss, civet and labdanum, and you might not have wafted insipid, non-descript ‘flower’ in your wake so much as a healthy dose of…
‘I’m me. Deal with it!’
It all began just after World War Two when Germaine Cellier created the greatest green of all time, Balmain’s ‘Vent Vert’. Created to confer hope and new beginnings after the war, it was clearly ahead of its time, and yet, it was one of the bestsellers of its day, so much that it was quickly followed in the next few decades by many more immortal greens. Miss Dior, Coriandre, Ma Griffe, Dioressence, Silences…it makes for a long list of late, great spectacular perfumes.
I was born to a perfume-mad mother who had certain priorities right. “Never,” she told me at the door to the Guerlain flagship store on the Champs Elysèes on a sunny afternoon in May 1977, “underestimate the importance of two things…a really good bra and…a really good perfume!”
Those were heady words for a fourteen-year-old, but not so heady I didn’t have certain priorities of my own. Above all else, now I had entered that parallel universe of perfume, to choose something that wasn’t…anything my mother ever wore. So I walked out of Guerlain with a bottle of Jicky parfum – which does indeed have a definite green vibe, or should I say, it did – and a few days later, I walked out of Dior on Avenue Montaigne with Miss Dior. I chose what I loved, what she didn’t wear, what I felt was a reflection of my own, individual self, and that emerging chrysalis was…green as the leaves on the blooming chestnuts along the Seine, green as the très chic woman I saw on the Pont Neuf in chartreuse panne velvet harem pants, an YSL peasant top and a killer pair of shoes, wafting a cloud of Rive Gauche.
In the (too many) years that followed, I wore and loved them all by the bucketful…Dioressence, Rive Gauche, Ma Griffe, Coriandre, Chanel no. 19, even Vent Vert, and took it entirely for granted that they would always be there to center my hara and convey their particular brand of courage…to face life and whatever it threw at me as well as I dared.
Until one day not so long ago, when I realized with a shock that…they were gone. What happened? Miss Dior and Dioressence survived Clash concerts and political demonstrations, parties where I danced till dawn and kept on dancing through the sunrise over the Copenhagen harbor, secret trysts in elderflower bushes in public parks and narrow escapes and negotiating pay rises with a boss who would much rather flirt, trailing silk scarves and more often than not…that indomitable, indubitable scent trace of … green.
It made me sad those green beauties got harder and harder to find, and somewhere along the line, I moved on though life, on to other perfumes and other grown-up joys of womanhood. Yet there was always that haunting, telltale whiff of galbanum and hyacinth that would appear and disappear whenever I remembered what self-confidence and self-esteem smelled like…
Not so long ago, right when I had defiantly parked my despair by the gates of Hades, I discovered one such green bottled hope – Puredistance Antonia. But once a long, long time ago, there was a green for every mood…and where did they all go?
I wasn’t alone, I came to find out. We ladies of a certain age and definite associations mourned our loss, counted our blessings and hoarded our vintages for those days when we needed a little extra titanium in our spines and our attitudes.
Meanwhile, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of Parfums des Beaux Arts decided to do something about it. So she created ‘Vert Pour Madame’.
When I opened that little vial, I had a moment only someone who remembers the movie “Wayne’s World’ would understand. In the movie, the two hapless heroes are confronted with a musical Primeval Force – Alice Cooper – and exclaim (before kowtowing before the bemused Alice):
‘We’re not worthy!’
This is precisely how I feel about Vert Pour Madame. But instead of genuflecting before Ms. Spencer Hurwitz, I want to get to my knees and …thank her. Vert Pour Madame is a much more forgiving and not so intimidating green floral as some I used to love and wear. All the same, it takes my breath away.
It pushes all the buttons I loved my greens to push…galbanum and bergamot, for centering my hara and making me sit up straighter. Hyacinth, for that effortless, deathless cool. A seamless, stunning bouquet of orris and jasmine, neroli and ylang ylang, muguet and rose and all that spells perfection, and it doesn’t stop there. Is there oakmoss in there? Really? Oakmoss? Something soft and mossy and right before I’m swooning with pleasure…it’s…no…it can’t be…it’s…oh, yes! Yes! It’s civet!
It’s glorious. It’s perfection. I have now died and gone to an immortal green heaven, where nothing can ever faze me again and I shall never eat humble pie ever again and my spine shall never rust. I’ll be cool, calm, collected and as effortlessly beautiful as Evelyn Tripp on the cover of Charm magazine in 1959, who captures the vibe of Vert Pour Madame flawlessly.
Vert Pour Madame is a perfumed poem to all those green-floral-chypres so many of us loved, and just as they were, it’s timeless.
It’s the Madame I want to be, the Madame I aspired to as a teenager, the woman I hoped I would become, and the woman I sometimes can even hope my life has made me.
And just like a green scent sibling I once caught a whiff of on the Pont Neuf…not for self-effacing women.
I’m me. Deal with it!
Notes: Aldehydes, bergamot, cassis, galbanum, hyacinth, white peach, jonquil, Moroccan rose, muguet, neroli, orris, sambac jasmine, violet leaf absolute, ylang ylang, Atlas cedarwood, Australian sandalwood, cistus absolute, civet, patchouli, moss, musk, tonka bean, Virginia cedar
Vert Pour Madame is available from the Parfums des Beaux Arts website.
Original image of Evelyn Tripp, cover of Charm magazine, June 1959 – MyVintageVogue