Germaine Cellier : Perfumer, Femme Fatale and Bandit

Celliergermaine

One of the first famous female perfumers, Germaine Cellier (1909-1976) was a creator ahead of her time, relying on short formulas to paint dazzling abstractions and treating notes as colors, much like a painter would. She was not afraid to use a large quantity of the aggressive aroma-chemical isobutyl quinoline in creating of the leather accord for Robert Piquet Bandit or 8% of galbanum for infusing Balmain Vent Vert with a fierce verdancy. She was also responsible for Robert Piguet Fracas (1948), Balmain Jolie Madame (1953), Balmain Monsieur Balmain (1964), and Nina Ricci Coeur-Joie (1946).

It is said that she was a striking woman—elegant, tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed. She had a sharp sense of humor and was full of vitality. She posed for André Derain and counted other famous painters and sculptors among her friends. …

Cellier was born in 1909 in Bordeaux and subsequently came to Paris to study chemistry. In her article, Jeannine Mongin notes that at the time fragrances were composed chiefly by the perfumers attached to the perfume houses such as Houbigant, Caron, Coty. Fragrance companies such as Givaudan, Roure Bertrand Dupont and others would supply raw materials and specialty bases. However, Roure, under the direction of Louis Amic and his team pushed for the fragrance companies to create finished fragrances and to engage fashion houses to market them under their names, thus establishing a synergy, which is often taken for granted.

It is in this climate that Cellier, who was working for Roure Bertrand Dupont, was able to give free reign to her creativity and to compose fragrances for fashion houses such as Robert Piguet and Pierre Balmain. From the sinister beauty of Fracas to the effervescent verdancy of Vent Vert, her unique talent and nonconformist vision are without a doubt.

Reference: from an article by Jeannine Mongin (read the article in its entirety at Société Française des Parfumeurs, in French).

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24 Comments

  • co: …she must have been a very strong and independent woman indeed. There is NO compromise in Bandit and it could have been created today, speaking of transcending time which only masterpieces can achieve. So it doesn’t surprise to hear art has been part of her life.

    …how does Jolie Madame and Coeur-Joie compare to Vent Vert and Bandit?…if I could find it here I would just run out now and sample all Germaine Cellier creations NOW!
    so please forgive me for asking….

    thank you!!!! November 22, 2005 at 5:29am Reply

  • Tania: What a gal. Thanks for the info! November 22, 2005 at 9:59am Reply

  • Marina: “Elegant, tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed”- what a stunner…and a talented “nose”…some people have it all 🙂 November 22, 2005 at 10:13am Reply

  • mreenymo: Great piece on this strong, original woman.

    Fracas is one of my favorites, and it stands to reason that a woman created it. :):)

    Hugs! November 22, 2005 at 12:29pm Reply

  • parislondres: A fascinating woman! Thanks dear V! November 22, 2005 at 2:14pm Reply

  • Liz: God, I have to get my hands on some vintage Vent Vert. I’m a woman on a mission. I have some galbanum essential oil, and its peculiarly vivid, peppery green vibe is one of my favorite things about Bandit.

    Fracas and Bandit have a lot of personality. Their ability to accomodate the personality of their wearer is fiercely limited. As much as I admire Fracas, I acknowledge, when I wear it, that it doesn’t quite fit. Whereas all the lines of Bandit seem to have been cut and sewed to exactly hug my contours! November 22, 2005 at 2:15pm Reply

  • Campaspe: I can’t get over the SAME woman creating Bandit and Fracas — an all-out floral and a get-out-of-my-way chypre. I should retry Bandit, maybe I have grown into it now. November 22, 2005 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Katie: Oh man, I do happen to have a wee rather old mini of Vent Vert, and I should revisit it. (I’m not particularly a green scent person, though I do find the occasional one that fits me.) I smelled the galbanum in it, but I hadn’t really considered her approach to it while sniffing. Thanks for the inspiration to sniff at her creation again, V. November 22, 2005 at 2:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Co, Jolie Madame was Bandit reinterpreted, with more floral accents. The florals here are violets. It is a beautiful sophisticated composition, which is rather interesting. A blend of traditional and avant-garde.

    Coeur-Joie is green and lucid, with a beautiful floral bouquet. Unfortunately, the top notes of my bottle are completely ruined, which makes it interesting only as a historical curio, rather than a wearable personal fragrance. The drydown is quite lovely still, but I rarely want to subject myself to the top notes, unless I am writing about something relating to Cellier’s work or fragrances of the period. Coeur-Joie bottle is very sweet–series of small hearts:
    http://www.toutenparfum.com/historique/nina_ricci/zoom.php?file=coeur_joie&nom=Coeur%20Joie&ret=coeur_joie&w=680&h=488 November 22, 2005 at 2:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, you are welcome! I never fail to be amazed by this woman. November 22, 2005 at 2:46pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, yes, don’t they? 🙂 Here is another photo of Cellier I love:
    http://www.chez.com/phine/Parfum/compositeurs.htm November 22, 2005 at 2:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I am glad that you enjoyed it. I wish I could find more information about her to write a longer article. She was fascinating. November 22, 2005 at 2:48pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: You are welcome, dear N! I have been meaning to write about her for a while. November 22, 2005 at 2:50pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, you put it wonderfully well! These fragrances are like works of art, couture pieces, as opposed to ready-mades, one size fits all.

    Do you think that she knew Duchamp? November 22, 2005 at 2:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: F, so true! On the other hand, neither is a soft-spoken, come hither fragrance. Both are bold and aggressive, just in different ways. I would be curious what you might think of Bandit. Try to get your hands on the parfum, if possible. November 22, 2005 at 2:54pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, it is my pleasure, and I would love to read your review of Vent Vert when you try it. It is quite special. The reworked one is very different, however as I understand, many of the speciality bases used in the original were not available in the 1990s when it was reorchestrated. Therefore, some compromises were inevitable. November 22, 2005 at 2:56pm Reply

  • Liz: RE: Duchamp: everyone knew everyone then! 🙂 November 22, 2005 at 3:31pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ah, depending on your social circle. It seems very possible though. 🙂 November 22, 2005 at 3:55pm Reply

  • co: Dear V,
    thank you for describing Jolie Madame and Coeur-Joie!
    …would love to try Coeur-joie, is it as green and dry as Vent Vert?…and Monsieur Balmain has it got some spicy notes? thank you!

    Dear Liz,
    …sounds as if we got the same passion for green, dry and independent scents! I would love to hear if you can find Vent Vert vintage and how it smells for you!
    Do you know Eau de Campagne by Sisley? It’s very fresh-cut grass,hay, non-floral…great light scent for summer!
    What you say about Bandit is so true, it feels like tailormade for me as well!!! 🙂
    Enjoy! November 22, 2005 at 10:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Co, Coeur-Joie has a green element, but it is much more subtle. It is the same galbanum though as in Vent Vert. Monsieur Balmain is elegantly spicy, but bold. I suppose that this boldness is what appeals to me the most about Cellier’s fragrances. November 23, 2005 at 3:26am Reply

  • co: Victoria,
    …totally agree the uncompromising strength is fantastic!
    Just finished reading your link of the french SFP article.
    “ses creations sont hardies, carrees, un peu brutes…elle cree en dissonance”
    this is soooo very very good! how lucky we are that her creations are still available today, so we can get a whiff of her energy and courage!
    …especially today in this marketing obsessed uniformed world of consumergoods!
    La Fuite Des Heures, Balenciaga, 1949 is mentioned did you ever get a chance to sample this? Does it still exist? November 23, 2005 at 5:04am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Co, I have never tried La Fuite Des Heures, which was probably discontinued a while ago, as it did not resurface before in any of my searches. Moreover, I agree with you in that we are lucky to have Cellier’s creations around in the form that is close to the originals. November 23, 2005 at 5:33pm Reply

  • chris: I have some vintage vent vert 15 oz bottle listed on Ebay. Do a search for Vent vert and you will find it.

    Chris October 23, 2006 at 4:31pm Reply

  • PIERRE DINAND: I worked with Pierre Balmain in 1963/64 on the Mens line Balmain pour Homme, Yellow bottle in a yellow bag, wich later inspired Grey Flannel.
    Germaine Cellier was quite a Character, elegant and tough, a la Chanel, bon souvenir March 8, 2013 at 9:49am Reply

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