Falling in love again… Jolie Madame by Balmain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

In the maelstrom of a Cold World War where the kids took rock stars and revolutionaries as their icons she kept Marlene as hers.

She was never really sure how she had ended up in the last officially occupied city in Europe, or how she found herself in a practically unheatable apartment up against the wall, on the last island of capitalism, cast adrift beyond the Tiergarten, before Check Point Charlie, and under American control.

But here she was, amongst the wannabee Baader-Meinhofs and Johnny Rottens, and happy after a fashion.

Her rooms, in a nineteenth century block blown apart then haphazardly rebuilt by the allies, were vast, indeed she held sway only over a portion of them, allowing plants and free-thinking students to invade the rest.

She laughed to herself that she didn’t know which smelt damper and more bitter, the moss that scaled the stairwell or the disaffected German youths who came to hang out with her.

Certainly the students had a more animal aroma than the well mannered mice that scuttled ceaselessly between walls and under floor boards.

The young people had arrived at first because of her flowers, they stayed they said because of her food and drew a crowd of comrades to the Kreuzberg because of her fingers.

She suspected there was still another reason for their devotion.

Something beyond the banks of sweet violets that she had taken to cultivating in the enormous and unusable sitting room, pots of which she would gift them to take back home and scent their squalid squats with.

Something other than the vats of lentils cooked with fresh coriander and the occasional clove spiced ham, simmered to submission on the aged gas stove, that they partook so freely and gratefully of.

Of course she knew there were causes other than poverty for their hunger, she saw the tram line bruises on their arms, the veins broken as abruptly as u-Bahn lines.

She even knew that it was something more than her facility for fixing up their battered leather jackets, using a Singer even older than her cooker, even older than her, to repair garments even more in tatters than their city, that drew them in.

Though it was true: her hands kept her now as they had always done: at any time there could be a hundred or more hide coats hanging in those rooms. Some awaiting repair, others in the process, the majority attending their owners’ return with the few marks in hand that they needed to pay her.

By mid afternoon the whole place smelt beautifully of new blood and old leather and she loved it and was comforted by it.

And this she knew is why they came. They came for comfort.

From about five, as night fell, they would make their way to her from across the berg.

They came drunk on the booze they bought at the Intershops at Friedriechstrasse station, where she had left her old life behind, or high on whatever they got high on that spring after the German Autumn.

They crammed in around her and talked and talked and talked until there was no more that could be said.

Then they asked her to play her music.

Placing the needle on the most scratched but most beloved of all her records, she waited a moment for the sound of an old Berlin to begin.

Then she sat amongst them as they finally found their quiet.

One of the children, for that is how she thought of them, whispered something to another, he looked straight at her and she caught the words “Die schone Frau”, then he collapsed into his lover’s arms and unconsciousness.

Jolie Madame, even in the latest toilette, stands as a salutary reminder of a previous kind of perfume.

It is a more careworn and perhaps caring sort of scent, one which seeks not to portray a perfected idea of the world but rather to suggest memories and make associations that are more real and realistically rough edged and imperfect.

It all starts with a phalanx of surprisingly savoury sweet violets.

The reason for this unsyrupy tone is quickly revealed as a slightly decayed structure of oakmoss, vetiver and animal smells, principally leather.

As the initially plush floral note fades, but never disappears, this leather truly comes to the fore and shows itself to be of an older, battered jacket type, aromatically weathered with coriander, petitgrain and not too much tobacco smoke.

Like an actual leather jacket, once one is accustomed to the scent it can tend to be subsumed into notions of the person who’s wearing it and when they have worn it.

In this sense Jolie Madame is a memory scent, a doorway into different pasts and places according to the whim of those who wear it and those who smell it.

Unlike so many contemporary perfumes, this sympathetically reformulated 1950s classic, does not close us in to a simple reading, but allows a little free thinking.

If only more fragrances today were as keen on freedom.

One has the sense that this could be quite as Jolie for a Monsieur as a Madame.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy

The Perfumed Dandy

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Falling in love again… Jolie Madame by Balmain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. LIlybelle

    I find this review particularly moving, Mr. Dandy. “Jolie Madame is a memory scent, a doorway into different pasts and places according to the whim of those who wear it and those who smell it.” So true. Thank you.

  2. brie

    Oh how I love a “memory scent”! Brilliant, Mr. Dandy!

  3. batkitty

    I’m so impressed with this review and your perspective on Jolie Madame. I have never consciously thought of it as a scent of memory, but I think you’ve hit it exactly. I don’t wear it often, but when I do it is evocative of so many things and people from my childhood that I don’t know where to begin to describe them–it can nearly overwhelm me. Thank you for putting your finger on this sensation; you catch the appeal of this wonderful perfume perfectly!

    • Dear Batkitty
      You have described perfectly my own feeling, when I smelt Jolie Madame it was as though a whole wave of memories that had been held behind a dam were suddenly released, some of them personal and some of them to do with the world I grew up in, it really was quite a remarkable experience and quite a remarkable perfume.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  4. Miss Misty

    This must be the most touching review you have done so far.
    I am very moved by your scenery since I had a grand aunt in Berlin living near Bahnhof Zoo in the early 80’s. She called those kids “hungernde Seelen” – starving souls.

    My perfume choice for tomorrow is settled, it will be “Die schöne Frau”

    • Dearest Miss Misty
      Your comments mean so much to me because of your personal connection with the places and indirectly the kind of people here.
      The divided Berlin of that period is still evocative today as we approach 25 years since the wall came down, it still sends a haunting message of memory to us through history.
      My most sincere thanks and I hope you enjoy your day with “The Beautiful Lady”.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  5. What happened to her? Was she still alive when the wall came down? So vivid, I can’t stop thinking about it… Oh, and the violets… and the worn leather jackets…

    • Dearest Vickie
      I must confess that these thoughts are running through The Dandy’s mind too. Perhaps, like others, she will appear another time, possibly in another place, certainly wearing a different perfume.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  6. Wonderful, Dandy! A memory scent…. I love the idea of this.
    Thank you!
    Gripping

  7. Of course I loved it…never wanted to. But I was drawn to this review like a moth to a flame….what am I to do?…I can’t help it.
    (I am going to get this one …it sound heavenly)

  8. Memories indeed! Of Berlin, of caring, of that beautiful German word that Jolie Madame and even your stunning review seem to encapsulate so well: Zärtlichkeit.. I have memories of Jolie Madame, since my mother wore it when I was very young. I remember being picked up after parties at babysitters, half.asleep, and wrapped in her fur coat, redolent with Jolie Madame. And although my mother has long since passed on, the memory of Jolie Madame lingers. I really should hunt this down again. For memory’s sake, for the immense admiration I have for its creatrix, the astonishing Mlle Cellier, and perhaps in the hopes of creating a few memories of my own! Thank you for that, too!

  9. This makes me really quite jealous. A stunningly envisioned imagining of a perfume I also adore and wear. Viscerally poetic, mon cher.

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