Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
There are days in the winter when one can smell spring. It comes surreptitiously, even if the ground is still covered with snow and the sun is concealed by thick white clouds. Yet, the fragrance of spring is unmistakable—fresh, wet, and earthy, bearing that violet intensity that marks the desire of living beings to cast off winter’s slumber. Remarkably, this dissonance of spring is captured by perfumer Germaine Cellier in Vent Vert, the perfume created for Pierre Balmain in 1947.
There is a striking beauty inherent in all of Cellier’s creations, where this ravishing effect is juxtaposed with challenging and aggressive notes. Would Fracas be the same without the poisonous intensity of its tuberose notes wrapped into the softness of peaches and sandalwood? Would Bandit simultaneously devastate and seduce were it not for its harsh leather notes foiled in floral notes? Needless to say, these are simply rhetorical questions.
Cellier’s touch is obvious in Vent Vert. Inhale it as the liquid melds into your skin. The first impression is of delicate unfurling leaves, and then one is both shocked and enthralled by the peppery verdancy of galbanum. Its presence is like a gust of wind. The floral notes temper its ruthless character, yet the disconcerting and unsettling aura remains, making Vent Vert unforgettable. As the composition segues into its base in a classical sequential manner, the darkness of mosses and woods vies for center stage with the brilliant green notes. The interplay of contrasts and harmonies in the composition is simply breathtaking. Vent Vert is a ruffian dressed in transparent chiffon. One cannot help being mesmerized by her.
Balmain relaunched Vent Vert in 1990, entrusting perfumer Calice Becker with the reformulation of the legendary original. It was not an easy feat, since many of the materials available to Cellier have long since disappeared. A master of crystalline floral accords, Becker has amplified the floral aspect of the original composition, toning down the aggressive punch of galbanum.
Then in 1999, Balmain relaunched Vent Vert again, giving it yet another twist. The main difference between the 1990 and the 1999 versions seems to be the presence of the more pronounced ambery-woody facet and yet further toning down of the aggressive greenness. While it makes Vent Vert less challenging, I find its character to be more dilute. I yearn to experience that breathtaking surge of galbanum, that scintillating leafy quality and that uncompromising beauty. While Vent Vert is still lovely, it lacks its most remarkable quality—its renegade spirit.
Sixty years have passed since Vent Vert made its debut. Although it was remarkable, the fragrance was somewhat ahead of its time. The green vibrancy of galbanum was far too aggressive to be commercial, and even though the Vent Vert we know today is rather removed from Cellier’s masterpiece, it left its mark by engendering its own family. The green florals like Chanel No 19 , Balmain Ivoire , Chanel Cristalle Eau de Toilette , Parfums Grès Cabotine and Hermès Un Jardin en Méditerranée owe their existence to the iconoclastic genius of Cellier. Even the new Chanel Bel Respiro, from Les Exclusifs collection, shares a bloodline with Vent Vert and its verdant intensity. Indeed, like the spring which it carries in its heart, Vent Vert will not disappear.
Although Vent Vert was marketed as a feminine fragrance, like many classical green florals, it would be perfect on a man. Despite its delicate character, the fragrance possesses a fantastic sillage and perfect tenacity. The modern versions are also great in this regards. The original version of Vent Vert (see an example of its bottle from the 1970s) featured galbanum, citrus, gardenia, peach, rose, lily of the valley, hyacinth, iris, jasmin , oakmoss, vetiver, styrax, and musk. The notes of the 1990 version (pictured above) include lemon, bergamot, lime, neroli, basil, galbanum, marigold, ylang ylang, rose, hyacinth, lily of the valley, spice accord, oakmoss, sandalwood, cedarwood, iris. Vent Vert from 1999 (see an example of its packaging) is listed as including green notes, orange blossom, lemon, lime, basil, rose, galbanum, lily of the valley, freesia, hyacinth, marigold, ylang-ylang, violet, oakmoss, sandalwood, sage, iris, guaiacwood, amber, and musk.
Photos from Parfum de Pub; title advertisement is from 1991.