Balmain Vent Vert New and Vintage : Perfume Review

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Balmain_vent_vert_1990

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.

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27 Comments

  • co: …as this morning was all grey and cool, yet this springtime feel is in the air…I chose to wear Bandit today…which is marvelously uplifting!
    Vent Vert includes so many personal memories…the 70’s version was my first one, how upsetting it was when the “polkadot-bow” 90’s version had erased all old stock…this was not my Vent Vert anymore…and yet the magnetic charm of springtime-abundance, green, fresh, cut grass, wind was still working…just a little too tamed.
    Call me a hopeless romantic, but I dont dare to smell the recent version, knowing it will not evoke the original joy and impression of perfection of my first experience (the 70’s one).
    How very lucky you are to have experienced the original version! It is great to know that a few drops of this masterpiece are still existing on this planet!
    …it is quite unbelievable how the ingredients have been changed over the 3 versions…the dilution of a milestone…thanks to you awareness for originals is being raised and maybe some day we will be seeing a revolution towards the true compositions again?…hopeless romantic? 😉 February 27, 2007 at 4:10am Reply

  • chayaruchama: Hello, Vika !
    I wore this a great deal,from my teens, until they re-formulated it, and I find the pairing of the hyacinth notes with the galbanum just perfect…also , the marigold prevents any cloying sweetness.
    The more available formula is pretty, but lacks the one-two punch that is the hallmark of Cellier’s work.

    It seems that edginess is acceptable in many of the arts, but most certainly not welcome in forms of communication these days, we’re such a volatile society. Too controversial, I suppose.

    I view perfume as a bridge between art, science, and communication.
    Somehow,it suffers from the lack of artistic freedom allotted to music, painting, etc., and seems to fall into the pitfalls of political correctness…hasn’t been very gratifying for all of us, lovers of scent that we are.

    Take care, and be well- February 27, 2007 at 6:51am Reply

  • newproducts: I am not a big fan of green scents, so I wonder if the new formulation will suit me more (I have not tried any of the versions). Every time I read one of your reviews, I feel that I can actually smell and even “see” the scent. Thank you! February 27, 2007 at 7:45am Reply

  • Elle: I had no idea there were three versions of this! I got a bottle of the vintage a while back and was shocked at how much more interesting it was than the modern version (don’t know which since it was from an online discount site). The vintage is infinitely more wearable for me since I love scents which hold my attention. How fascinating that it was the start of the green floral family. For that alone I’m deeply appreciative of it and Cellier. February 27, 2007 at 7:56am Reply

  • March: Beautiful review. Oh, how I wish I were getting that first small feeling of spring here! Somehow everything seems permanently frozen … it’s all buried under slush now, anyway, even my tiny, beloved wintersweet blooms that smell like tuber-jasmine. When they’re not coated in ice. Sigh. February 27, 2007 at 8:18am Reply

  • Marina: I smelled the spring in the air last week, absolutely unmistakable smell, isn’t it? Of course then it started snowing, but never mind, the spring is creeping up upon us, slowly but surely 🙂 Love your very informative review. Off to hunt for Vent Vert. February 27, 2007 at 8:52am Reply

  • cathleen56: V — once again, thanks for the stirring review, especially your noting the dissonance factor in all of these great perfumes. I’ve never smelled Vent Vert, but can easily make the leap from what I know about Fracas and Bandit from your excellent description.

    Here’s a question — how does Vent Vert compare to vintage Aliage (if you know)? I used to love Aliage when it first came out, and I found an old bottle of it recently, and bought it. I can’t decide whether the aggressive, swamp-like green note in the middle of it is intentional, or that the bottle has turned. Is that vetiver in its truest incarnation, the simultaneously alluring yet frightening wicked Voodoo Queen? (that’s the mental picture I get, anyway). February 27, 2007 at 10:17am Reply

  • Ina: I just put on some vintage Vent Vert from my sample, and I’m getting a little smoke or some dry, spicy note. What a beautiful scent! Thanks for your review. February 27, 2007 at 10:51am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Co, I am a hopeless romantic too, and I am looking forward to that day. Smelling Vent Vert in all of its incarnations is fascinating. In general, I have such an admiration for Cellier. Even her early creations are amazing. February 27, 2007 at 11:36am Reply

  • carmencanada: I own both the original vintage VV and the Calice Becker reformulation. The latter has a lemon-candy, tart and sugary quality I’m not crazy about, whereas the former just floors you with that galbanum blast before the floral notes enter. Bel Respiro, as you noted, is a descendant of the original Vent Vert, though in a tamer form. No one’s ever matched Cellier’s daring coups d’éclat: she seems to have been a very instinctive composer with a temper to match her iconoclastic perfume statements. Though what ingredients, exactly, in her original formula needed to be replaced (oakmoss wasn’t on the deathlist yet, and surely the musk was already synthetic) is not particularly clear to me. Have you got any more info on this, V.? February 27, 2007 at 11:39am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, the materials that were gone by the time Becker started working on Vent Vert were the bases. In the past, perfumers would often use bases rather than individual oils/absolutes to create specific effects. This is why the successful fragrances from the past feel complex, while the ones that were less so have a bland, blurry quality. For instance, Caron Nuit de Noel’s leathery undercurrent was not isobutyl quinoline directly, but rather Mousse de Saxe, which includes isobutyl quinoline as well as a number of other things. So, Cellier uses a number of such bases to create Vent Vert. The formulas for many of them were not available, so Becker had to reconstitute them herself.

    Like you, I find the original to be breathtaking. The reformulated versions are pretty, but this is exactly what Vent Vert was not. It was striking. February 27, 2007 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Bryan: I have had the 1990 version for quite some time. I find it beautiful yet somewhat unremarkable. I recently purchased the original version from ebay. I am blown away (please excuse the horrid pun as I could not help myself). I find the blast of galbanum erotic. Am I crazy here? I am moved by the warm yet ethereal scent. Lovely review (what a shock ; ) ). Was wondering what you think of the original Molinard de Molinard. February 27, 2007 at 12:40pm Reply

  • Karin: If I hadn’t already chosen something else, I would have tried my various formulations of VV instead. Now, I have to wait for what I have on to quiet.

    Karin
    http://www.savvythinker.com February 27, 2007 at 1:02pm Reply

  • qwendy: Hi there, how wonderful you posted this today, as I’ve been after a comparison of these versions, and not aware that there were TWO formulations in the 90’s! Do you know what the packaging of the 1990 looks like? Is it the one with the spray on top, like your pic above? BTW here’s someone on Ebay who has 11 original formula spray bottles! http://tinyurl.com/yws6lg February 27, 2007 at 1:50pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Wendy, glad that it is helpful! The last paragraph of the review has links to the photos of different bottles. The advert above is from 1991. February 27, 2007 at 1:54pm Reply

  • carmencanada: V., wouldn’t it be interesting to do an article on those various vintage bases? For instance, I understand Mousse de Saxe is still an essential component of the classic Carons. And the many Patous that were re-issued as “Ma Collection” were also variations on similar bases. I, for one, would love to learn more about them. February 27, 2007 at 3:19pm Reply

  • Karin: Ah, I finally was able to wear it.

    Karin
    http://www.savvythinker.com February 27, 2007 at 6:11pm Reply

  • Jeannemarie: To pick up on Bryan’s post, I, too, would love to hear your review of Molinard de Molinard. I just LOVE this fragrance and am on my second bottle ot it! I wish that I could do justice to this one in a review, but I can’t… February 27, 2007 at 7:18pm Reply

  • Karthik: Victoria,
    Wonderful review again. And, as ever, one that compels me to sample right away.
    Given your impeccable taste, most sampling sessions inevitably end up in purchases;while I don’t regret that, my savings account is on a diet!
    I have always found Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy’s Greenergy great spring-green scents.
    A penny for your thoughts? February 27, 2007 at 8:27pm Reply

  • sdn: i didn’t know there were two 1990s formulations, either. when i was on my cellier binge a while ago i got the vintage and the first reformulation — the vintage won hands down. February 28, 2007 at 2:11pm Reply

  • Belle: Oh! God have mercy, to let people know each other by Google. Please receive my warm hug from far east, Thailand. I accidentally found your blog. Of course, I am lunatic in fragrances.

    Would you mind doing me a favor?
    Let me know your suggestion upon “GREENY” perfumes.
    Or “greeny fresh.”
    Or “Oceanic.”
    What are those?
    They should also be affordable.

    I’d like to have your recommendations very much.

    Regards,
    Belle May 17, 2007 at 10:39am Reply

  • Blue Zinnia: V., thanks for a jaw-droppingly fine and perceptive review of Vent Vert _originelle_. The original was and is my Number One, alltime favorite fragrance. Even Shalimar doesn’t quite edge it out. And it breaks my heart that it’s been “adjusted”, or tamed, or just plain dumbed down, whether due to supply issues or because it didn’t smell like the latest celebrity juice. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Calice Becker, much as I respect, say, Cezanne–but I wouldn’t ask Cezanne to “fix” a Van Gogh, especially if I knew he couldn’t get Van Gogh’s paints anymore. A Van Gogh is not busted, and must not be “fixed” just because we aren’t going to get any more of them. I no longer own any original VV, but I’m damned if I’ll dishonor its memory with even a very pleasant impostor.

    Here endeth the rant. This stuff makes me do that. 🙂 October 22, 2011 at 4:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: You know, it is heartbreaking to smell a perfume and discover that it smells nothing at all like the original! I can totally understand your sentiment! October 22, 2011 at 4:16pm Reply

  • javier: I got one bottle of Vent Vert dotted cap, i don’t know what version is it? July 5, 2013 at 10:07am Reply

  • Elena: It was my first perfume in high school in the end of 90-s. I brought it from France and I loved it till the last drop. December 1, 2014 at 8:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a sophisticated teen you were! 🙂 December 2, 2014 at 4:27am Reply

  • Sharon: Vent Vert in its original formulation was the first fragrance I fell in love with as a teenager. I used it exclusively until it was no longer available. The two follow-up versions were like assaults on my senses. I can close my eyes and summon up the beauty of the original. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing on the market that even comes close. I am heartbroken. April 1, 2016 at 3:53pm Reply

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