Balmain Jolie Madame ~ fragrance review

Balmain Jolie Madame fragrance advertBalmain Jolie Madame perfume advert

Have you ever played the game where you compose a dinner party of any guests that you want? With all four leaves in my dining room table I can seat twelve people. I haven't chosen all the guests yet, but I'm tentatively down for Dolly Parton, M. F. K. Fisher, Jimmy and Roslyn Carter, Charlie Chaplin — and perfumer Germaine Cellier. Germaine Cellier is the nose behind an astonishing list of list of fragrances, including one of my favorites, Balmain Jolie Madame.

According to a profile of the perfumer by Jeannine Mongin for the Société Française des Parfumeurs, Germaine Cellier was a tall, thin blonde with an unerring sense of style (she favored Balmain suits) and a dirty mouth. She studied chemistry and during World War II worked for Colgate Palmolive scenting soap. She lived in Montparnasse, modeled for André Derain, and was friends with Jean Cocteau. She kept three dachshunds named Cléopatra, Félix, and Valentin and a parrot who could sing Etoile des Neiges.  She was imperious, generous, opinionated, and never married but spent the last thirty years of her life shacked up with a tennis pro. If Cellier were alive today, she'd be exactly 100 years old.

And, of course, she made marvelous, groundbreaking perfumes. Balmain Vent Vert, which she created in 1945, was the first truly modern green fragrance. She also created Piguet Bandit, Piguet Fracas, Balmain Monsieur Balmain, and Nina Ricci Coeur Joie. As Mongin wrote (and this is my translation of her French — francophones would do better to read the original article): "Germaine Cellier composes in perfume without constraint, without prejudice, with genius, in the manner of a painter...Her creations are daring, straightforward, a little brutal. She transposes Fauvism and abstract art into perfumerie."

In 1953, Cellier created Jolie Madame for Pierre Balmain. The fragrance was so successful that Balmain named a line of designs after it. Jolie Madame's notes include gardenia, artemisia, bergamot, coriander, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, rose, jonquil, orris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, musk, castoreum, leather, and civet. This list makes Jolie Madame sound like a thief broke into a florist's shop and shoveled everything he could into his leather satchel. Really, though, Jolie Madame smells like sharp green leaves, violets, and leather.

Think about the genius behind this combination. The upfront green gives the perfume liveliness and energy. The violets are womanly and elegant. The leather lets you know that the woman wearing Jolie Madame will kick your keister around the block if you mess with her. Yet somehow these disparate elements feel made for each other, a surprising and memorable combination — just as I imagine Cellier was.

The new and vintage versions of Jolie Madame Eau de Toilette are subtly different. I like them both. Vintage Jolie Madame is less stridently green at first and its leather feels richer and silkier than the new version. It shifts subtly through a bright opening and delicate violets supported by sun-ripened spring flowers, and soon you find yourself breathing soft, full leather fluffed with sandalwood and marveling at how smooth the ride was. The new version has a clunkier transmission. It opens with a green as bright as a galbanum and hyacinth cocktail then abruptly turns crisp violet and leather. After half an hour on my skin, both the new and vintage Jolie Madame smell similar, with the vintage's leather a little more animalic. They both wear close to the skin and don't last much longer than four hours.

A 100 ml bottle of Balmain Jolie Madame Eau de Toilette is easy to find at discounters for a good price.

Note: images via Parfum de Pub.


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85 Comments

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  1. SmokeyToes says:

    Hi Angela,
    I was wearing this over the weekend! I LOVE this scent. I fell in love at first sniff! I get soft leather and violet notes, it lasts about 5 hours. I like that the sillage is close to the skin.

    I wish I could find the vintage version. I got into a bidding war last year on the ‘Bay over a vintage version of the perfume (I lost). I think the final price was over 450! Too spendy for me at present…. But a perfumista can dream right?
    Thank you for writing such a lovely piece. Made my foggy cold Monday brighter :)

    • Angela says:

      Foggy and cold! Here it’s scorching.

      I like the new version just fine, although it lacks some of the subtlety of the vintage. But the difference between the new and old versions isn’t as disappointing as a lot of them, I think.

  2. Robin R. says:

    Darling Angela, what a beautifully-written review. (Do you write ANY other kind? :-) )

    Thanks to you, I have experienced vintage Jolie Madame, and I was astonished at its freshness and modern feel. Our noses are very, very similar, and I got very nearly what you got as the Big Three notes: green violet, jonquil and suede, in my case. How nice to know that the current version hasn’t been reformulated into unrecognizability. (Is that a word? My spellcheck doesn’t think so.)

    I adore it, and knowing more about Germaine Cellier’s life, interests and personality adds another dimension of appreciation to my little vial of JM. Thank you for that lovely gift.

    • pinkfizzy says:

      Hi RobinR, nice to meet you at Ayala’s yesterday! That Egyptian jasmine!

      • Robin R. says:

        You, too. That was so much fun. And that jasmine grandiflorum. . .and that saffron attar. . .and hoooo-eeee, that civet!! That would clear any room in record time. (Of course, I loved it. :-D )

        (Any readers of NST who ever make it up to Vancouver mustn’t miss a visit to Ayala Sender, the nose of Ayala Moriel perfumes. She’s a sweetheart, and has a fascinating collection of natural fragrances. I pooh-poohed the concept, being a lover of JCE, et al, and modern molecules, but I’m officially a convert. Her Razala is made from real ambergris — yep, from real whales — and has to be sniffed to be believed. She’s at http://www.ayalamoriel.com. I’ll join you!)

        • ScentScelf says:

          Robin, if you enjoy Ayala, and have already enjoyed your helpings of floral and ambergris from her offerings, try some of her greens. I enjoy a good green, and have a trio of variations on green from her which each have a unique, and to my nose quite wonderful, take.

          • Robin R. says:

            Thanks for the tip, SS. I did try a couple of greens from Ayala — darned if I can remember their names — and one was lemony and green and reminded me of Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorella in edt. Yum. I will have to do more research. . .

        • ScentScelf says:

          Robin, if you enjoy Ayala, and have already enjoyed your helpings of floral and ambergris from her offerings, try some of her greens. I enjoy a good green, and have a trio of variations on green from her which each have a unique, and to my nose quite wonderful, take.

    • Angela says:

      You’re welcome! I think Cellier sounds marvelous, although I would have probably been afraid of her in real life. Enjoy that Jolie Madame.

      • Robin R. says:

        Ooh, I will, I will!

  3. pinkfizzy says:

    I love Jolie Madame, it’s so sophisticated and beautiful! I also really like Miss Balmain, also by Cellier I think. I’d love to smell the original Vent Vert, and last years Ambre Gris by Balmain sounds like it could potentially be interesting. Its notes are Pink pepper (natch!), Cinnamon, Tuberose, Immortelle, Myrrh, Smoky gaïac wood, Benzoin, White musks, Ambergris.

    • Angela says:

      I have a friend who wears Ambre Gris, and it’s warm and a little spicy on her. Vent Vert is fabulous. I wish I could find a big ole vat of that in vintage.

  4. Suzanne941 says:

    A: great story! How I’d love to be a tall, thin Parisienne with an unerring sense of style and a dirty mouth! I guess one attribute’s not bad. Haven’t tried any of the Balmains yet but they’ve just moved up the list so I can experience Mme Cellier. thanks!

    • Angela says:

      I know! How come when I cuss it doesn’t sound charming? At least I can wear Cellier’s perfumes.

    • Daisy says:

      hmmm, I thought perhaps Suz was tall……

      • Angela says:

        …and perhaps she is!

  5. boojum says:

    We were just discussing “kick your keister” frags last week, and that’s something I definitely need to keep at hand in my desk these days. Sounds like this might be a good one to test! Ms. Cellier, on the other hand, sounds like someone I’d love to read about, but would be far too timid to meet.

    • Angela says:

      Jolie Madame kicks keister without the victim fully being aware of what’s going on. That its genius, I think.

      • boojum says:

        Ha, that sounds even more perfect. :) It’s like getting the last word in an argument, but in such a sweet tone that the other person is left wondering just what you meant…

  6. Dzingnut says:

    Wonderful review Andrea, and I love the advertisements, they are so perfectly in synch with Madame Jolie’s vibe. I would love to go back in time and smell the original formulation of Vent Vert … Madame Jolie is wonderful and it’s great to know that it still smells like “itself” when compared with vintage. Plus the price cannot be beat …

    • Angela says:

      The new Vent Vert doesn’t hold a candle to the vintage, unfortunately. But I do like the new Jolie Madame just fine–although the vintage is so nice, too…

      • Robin R. says:

        The new Vent Vert doesn’t hold a candle to the vintage, Angela? Yikes. The vintage must be The Bomb, because I tried the ’99 edition and it blew my slippers off! :-)

        • Angela says:

          The vintage is really wonderful–crisp, fresh, sparkly, and feminine. I love it.

  7. Bee says:

    wow, that Germaine sound’s like someone I’d like to be (well, occasionally).. have to try the perfumes!
    thanks for the great review!

    • Angela says:

      Doesn’t she sound great? She must have charged up a room when she entered.

  8. Absolute Scentualist says:

    Great review, Angela. I’d love to try this one, particularly due to the violet and leather. The character of the fragrance, according to your description, reminds me a lot of Narcisse Noir, another of my favorites. It commands respect simply by existing, and wears so beautifully on me, anyway. I don’t get the bandage note many people notice in the drydown.

    And yes, I salute Germaine Cellier. I’m wearing another of her creations, Fracas extrait, today. It’s one of my favorites and is like the fragrance equivalent of a couture gown or frilly pink powder puff. Just the thing for the start of the work week and antidote to my usual mommy routine. I might be doing laundry, trying to convince my toddler to keep his diaper and clothes on, or cooking dinner, but damn it, I’m doing it in style. Thank you, Mademoiselle Sellier. :)

    • Angela says:

      Jolie Madame is more of a friendly, day time fragrance than Narcisse Noir, I think. But they’re both wonderful. Fracas sounds perfect for today!

      • Absolute Scentualist says:

        Oh, now I truly want to try it, even if it’s one I might need to reapply. Some exquisite leathers manage to be totally appropriate for daytime wear, and I love them for their ability to be sensible and commanding all at once.

        • Angela says:

          “Sensible and commanding”–perfect description, along with “womanly”.

  9. Joe says:

    Hi Angela. Cellier certainly sounds like quite a personage, and JM sounds like a very nice scent from another one of your terrific reviews. The Posse crew is always chatting about this, so it’s been on my radar for awhile. I’ll have to get a mini someday. I love that Mongin comparison of Cellier’s perfumery to abstract art — and you know I’m loving my vintage Vent Vert.

    Interesting that violet isn’t in the notes you listed, yet it’s prominent!

    (NB: I smiled at reading that Cellier modeled for André Derain; that’s the painter of my gravatar. I love the fauves!)

    • Angela says:

      Vent Vert in its vintage form is pretty great–I really love the sample you sent, thank you. Then think of Bandit, then Fracas–she really was amazing.

      It would be fun to find some of Derain’s drawings or paintings of Cellier.

  10. ScentScelf says:

    Also a fan of Jolie Madame. I like to think of it as speaking softly but carrying a big stick…when you pay attention, you realize how beautiful and intelligent it is.

    • Angela says:

      That is an apt description. It’s so easy to see Jolie Madame as a real person–someone you’d like to know.

  11. Rappleyea says:

    Wonderful review of the Balmain fragrances and Germaine Cellier, Angela. For the curious, I found a picture of her here:

    http://phine.chez.com/Parfum/compositeur.jpg

    I’ve noticed that the formulas for many of the great classics sound like everything and the kitchen sink. The genius, and what has made them so enduring, was in how all of those materials were put together. Get your rotten tomatoes ready…. I’m not so sure that today’s minimalist formulas with their pared down molecules will be as appreciated in 50 or 60 years as today’s vintages are.

    • Angela says:

      It seems like there used to be a lot of more appreciation for more baroque creations–but even Cellier was more pared down than some. She used a lot of pre-made bases in her compositions. Since those bases may not be around anymore, it makes it tough to reproduce some of her work faithfully–or at least that’s what I, not an expert by any means, understand.

      • Rappleyea says:

        That’s probably true with trying to recreate many of the older fragrances. That and it’s so much more expensive now.

        • Angela says:

          I’m sure you’re right. But still, you’d think that for $100+ a bottle the perfume should be pretty great…

    • That photo! Makes you wonder who she was smiling that I’ll-tolerate-you-and-your-camera-for-exactly-one-more-minute smile at…

  12. Tama says:

    Angela, your reviews always make me sorry I’m not sitting here in vintage couture (as opposed to sweats, still, in July) and some fabulous vintage fragrance with a perfect shade of red lipstick on.

    This scent sounds divine, and I love your description of Germaine Cellier – she sounds like someone who should have lived to be 100, like Beatrice Wood. I guess some Balmains will have to go on The List. Sigh.

    • Angela says:

      I love thinking about Cellier, too. And get out of those sweats right now! I know there’s a glamour puss in there….

  13. Dagmar says:

    Great article! She sounds awesome… I just swapped for a bottle of this last week and I love it, but I put it away as I felt it was more of a Springtime fragrance with the violet, and I don’t know about leather when it’s 100 degrees out (which it will be here in Texas for the next couple months). Does anyone else have this notion of fragrance seasonality? Does it prevent anyone from wearing certain things that they love?

    • srhhartford says:

      Perfect anytime. Just a few judicious short sprays for a Texas summer.

      • Angela says:

        Sounds like the voice of experience!

    • Angela says:

      The weather definitely affects what perfume I wear–just as my summer clothes affect the perfumes I wear. But Jolie Madame is good in an air-conditioned office, in my opinion. It might be rough in 100 degree weather, though.

  14. srhhartford says:

    So thrilled at reading this, ran from computer to bedroom to spritz on EDT purchased at Marshall’s not long ago. Jolie Madame,, even new and reformulated, is excellent. On my dry skin fragrance holds. Also like Balmain’s soapy floral “Ivoire.” That EDT holds on my dry skin too.

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad you like it! It’s a classic.

  15. mikeperez23 says:

    This is one of her creations I still have not smelled.

    I will have to remedy that soon. I honestly didn’t know it was a violet prominent scent. Duh.

    Thanks!

    • Angela says:

      Oh gosh, you definitely need to smell it. Let me know what you think of it when you do.

    • Haunani says:

      I’ve not smelled it either, but Angela has me convinced that I need to check it out!

  16. Hey, A, great review as always. We’ve been discussing Cellier over on the Posse as well, today, so some kind of something must be in the air. A need for that particular Mme C. energy…

    I managed to snag some of the vintage parfum of this on ebay–a tiny metal encased travel bottle. I couldn’t hack it the first time I tried it. It was better the second, and my vintage-loving friend tells me all it’s notes are intact, so I’m keeping it with the hopes of growing into it. I’ve been accumulating both leathers and violets at an increasing rate, so it seems like a natural…

    • P.S. My bottle went for $13. Yep. So those of you who want one, keep trying, and keep an eye out for the small ones.

      • Angela says:

        That’s a terrific price, congratulations.

    • Angela says:

      Why you lucky thing! Great score.

      I saw the post at Perfume Posse and thought the same thing–Cellier must be floating around us now.

  17. miss kitty v. says:

    Dolly Parton AND Germaine Cellier? I want to go to this party! :)

    I wonder what perfume Dolly wears…?

    • Angela says:

      I figure Dolly would be gracious and entertaining, and the Carters would be good mixers–plus it never hurts to have a Nobel laureate at the table. Now, what to serve for dinner–that’s a whole other question.

  18. Rick says:

    Jacques Cocteau? Wasn’t he Jean’s butch older brother? The one who liked scuba-diving so much/

    • Angela says:

      Oh no, Rick. You’re thinking of the marine biologist, Jean Cousteau.

      (Damn it!–See I can swear just like Germaine Cellier–I know my Jeans from my Jacques, but apparently I’m losing my mind. Must be all the Jolie Madame fumes.)

      • krokodilgena says:

        In French, for extra credit we could write a little bio for some French person (in French) and I was asking my friend who I should do and he recommended “Jean Cousteau” and I said “I haven’t seen any of his movies yet, but there are a few that I really want to see. I should really get on that.”
        and he was like “o__O didn’t know you liked fish that much…”
        the confusion has been cleared up by now though…..

        I should really try Jolie Madame and I still need to try Bandit.

        • krokodilgena says:

          Jacques Cousteau?
          I’m sooooo confused
          I don’t know my Jeans from my Jacques.
          There’s a Jacques Cousteau and a Jean Cousteau (Jean’s son).

          I’m going to go back to worrying about perfume and stop worrying about similar names, I think >____>

          • Angela says:

            Good move! You still haven’t tried Bandit? I think all of Cellier’s fragrances are worth trying.

        • mals86 says:

          Hey, I can totally see you in Bandit…

          • Angela says:

            ditto

        • Angela says:

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a momentary brain spasm. Besides firmly knowing who Jean Cocteau is (and being a big fan, especially, of his movies), I had linked to his entry on wikipedia. So I’d just seen his name.

          • krokodilgena says:

            Jean is Jacques’ son, I mean to say. >___<

            I haven't tried Bandit because I typically only get samples from Aedes and Luckyscent.
            But my brother opened a savings account and I referred him to the bank so now I get $25 that can go towards a sample of Bandit.

  19. lilydale aka Natalie says:

    I keep meaning to try JM, so thank you for reminding me of it with yet another enticing review… Bandit is my butt-kicking perfume of choice, but I wouldn’t mind another to add to my repertoire. I recently tried the new Vent Vert and was sadly underwhelmed, but that’s obviously not the fault of Cellier, who sounds like a heck of a dame.

    • Angela says:

      Jolie Madame is Bandit’s elegant older sister, but you can tell they share the same parents. Let me know what you think when you try it!

  20. Trish says:

    I’m loving the “shacking up with a tennis pro” part of her bio the best. You can’t beat that as far as I’m concerned :-)

    I do adore vintage JM….violets and leathah…come to mommy!

    • Angela says:

      I liked that part, too! The bio said that he lovingly attended to her when she was ill in her later years.

  21. Manna says:

    Wonderful review indeed, dear Angela, it fixes my mood in a day that wasn’t promising any good today.
    I first fell in love with JM when I read the following post of a guy in the Perf.emporium opinion section (allow me to cite him):


    is one of those distinct scents from the past that I can always pick out in a crowd of people, whether it be at a night club, a benefit, or the theater. Usually, when I have traced Jolie Madame to the wearer, she invariably winds up being the most interesting, mysterious and complex woman in the room. I first smelled it on a music teacher in high school in the 60′s. She had that pre-Beatles, ladylike demeanor about her & the Jolie Madame really ehanced her personality. Tweed suits, stockings, heels, and pearls seem to go hand-in-hand with this fragrance, however, a gamine-like woman in a leather jacket wearing pearls could also pull off wearing this classic. It spells paris with a capital “P” for sure.

    The only thing that stopped me from blind buy was that violets really don’t do the twist for me. But I’m an addict to Cabochard and Bandit… Then I asked some more people about it and they recommended Miss Balmain as a better suiting to me. It goes totally horrid on me. Smells like party of BAD cleaning product and an old perfume forgotten for 20 years in a sunny corner full of dust. So my urge to try JM was quite diminishing… when a dear friend also in love with Bandit and Cabi sent me a vial!
    First try: yuck, violets. Thank you friend, I now rest calm that this one is now scratched from the list and not for me.
    Forgotten for months…
    Then.. one lonely warm night. A little romantic but not by means of person, just the romantic air of the loneliness itself (as controversially as it sounds, and yet it does have it), a touch of sadness and nostalgia, a phone-talk with an old friend from high-school long gone to live abroad. These talks are not like with everyday friends – what today, what yesterday? They are so great and all about a real, genuine, i-mean-it “how are you”, a loaded of sincere nostalgia “you remember those times”, even if today’s life is going really great and all well… Deeply personal and touching, moving experience.
    Suddenly the image from the fore-cited review came up to my mind, maybe because of the teacher part and the nostalgia wrapped around this perfume. I tried the vial again and the magic worked! It worked so much for the particular moment that a tear humidified my front window and a gentle violet hand in a leather glove clutched my throat. And I didn’t need to wipe it, I just let the emotion free.
    I fell in love.

    And that memory charged with nostalgia is fixed in the bottle of JM like a mosquito in an amber stone forever. I really think that this should be the main quality of a fragrance: emotion. This is what art is: a movie to make one shed tears, a picture, a book with an atmosphere to sink in, a poem to make you feel in love even if there is no particular subject deserving it…
    Sorry for long post but your wonderful review of this piece of art and its artist moved me! Hugs,
    Manna

    • mals86 says:

      A lovely post – thanks for the “film short” to give us a picture of JM!

    • Rappleyea says:

      Very beautiful and evocative post. Thank you!

    • Angela says:

      Oh my gosh! Just goes to show once again how powerful perfume can be. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Musette says:

    I just posted about this on the Posse yesterday but definitely not as elegantly as you have, here:-) JMadame is incredible – I have a mid-cent parfum (probably 70s) that stops my heart every time I sniff it and Mme GC is my hero! Carter and I were chatting about our inability to wear Vent Vert anymore – as gorgeous as it is, it just feels too young for me now (mid-50s) – it’s a shame because it was my First Green Love.

    Speaking of Love, I love women like Mme Cellier; actually, I’m very much like her (minus the talent, beauty and elegance:-), much to the dismay of my family and friends:-p. My ex-husband/studio manager used to say that living with me was like living with Picasso! Wonder what he would’ve made of La Cellier? She would’ve eaten his lunch in 32seconds!LOL!

    But thank the Universe for women like her – without her, we wouldn’t have some of the most incredible fragrances ever crafted!

    xoA

    • Angela says:

      Well, then I’d love to meet you! Your husband isn’t a tennis pro by any chance, is he?

      I saw your post yesterday and thought about the wonderful coincidence of so much Cellier in the air yesterday. Enjoy your Jolie Madame–it sounds like it suits you.

  23. Robin R. says:

    Angela, what timing! You made me remember how much I ADORE JM, and wouldn’t you know it: a woman in Ontario was selling a vintage BNIB, cellophane still on, 1.7 edt for under $20!! Thanks to you jogging my memory, I am that bottle’s proud new mama! Can’t thank you enough. And P.S. She’s also sending me a BNIB seventies Magie Noire, Je Reviens and Tamango for lovely, lovely prices because she knows I’m an impoverished pink collar worker. :-)

  24. mals86 says:

    Just snagged a teeny micro-mini vintage bottle a few days ago on the ‘bay, and it is lovely. I think it must be parfum – I opened the bottle just to sniff, and a single drop fell onto my shirt (dang!) and perfumed me for many hours. It’s beautiful fresh, crisp flowers, with a hint of my leather attache’ case somewhere in the background, really striking. Leather’s a little tricky for me – Chanel’s Cuir de Russie is just *awful*, total barnyard with a side of very dry iris, while No. 19′s leathery drydown is terrific. I’d like to try the modern version, since it’s so easily available online… may have to break down and buy unsniffed!

    • Angela says:

      I’m so glad you like it! Maybe it’s the violet, but I find its leather easy to wear for sure.

      The new No. 19 isn’t the same as the old stuff. It’s more powdery to me, and less luscious. It’s still better than nothing, though.

  25. sandyshoes says:

    I loved Jolie Madame back in the 60′s and 70′s, but had a hard time holding on to it! Husband I were houseguests at a friend’s house and when I packed up to leave it was mysteriously “missing”! Never showed up, hmm. So after a while I bought another bottle of the spray cologne. While traveling, left it out on the bathroom vanity and this time it just “disappeared”! Guess the maid liked it too. Couldn’t find it after that, but I loved it while I had it. LOL.

    • Angela says:

      Oh no! Who knew Jolie Madame was so tempting?

  26. katerina says:

    Today I tried the talked about Jolie Madame and Miss Balmain. They belong to the same olfactory category but they are totally different. Miss Balmain is loud, intense and leave a frankincense note. I like it, much more Knowing, but I should not dare to wear it nowadays. Unfortunately, Jolie Madame is so week that I had to sniff many times. The worst thing is that it started nicely but it was transformed into freshly cut dill (on my skin). I shall try again, hoping ….

    • Angela says:

      Dill? That sounds awful! Good, perhaps, served with eggs, but not on skin.

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