Sometimes I think that the first perfumer anyone who is interested in perfume learns about is Germaine Cellier (1909-1976?). This figures, because she was such a glamorous entity. There she is, in black and white photos, wearing her well-fitted tailleurs like armor, usually with a cigarette clamped between her first two fingers. The story goes, that she was lesbian, witty, the friend of Jean Cocteau, and very talented. Then there’s the fact that she’s credited with the most memorable Robert Piguet perfumes – Bandit (1944) and Fracas (1945) and some Balmains: Vent Vert (1947) , Jolie Madame (1953), Monsieur Balmain (1964) as well as Coeur Joie for Nina Ricci in (1946). That’s a lot of hits for a single career.
The one that people struggle with these days is Bandit. I’ve read the reviews. Everyone thinks that Bandit’s dark, difficult, a bad girl scent, even a scrubber. Old lady comments seem to drop off, since I guess that even contemporary sniffers suspect this perfume saw more action than World War Two, and indeed, Bandit was worn by Marlene Dietrich, so probably did.
There is something slightly feral about Bandit, I grant you, but it is the feral you could see pacing backstage at the Folies Bergere, or later at the Crazy Horse, chain smoking in a tuxedo, or at the other end of the gender spectrum a black cat suit and stilettos. Not a comparatively harmless predator in some humdrum jungle. Although Bandit is on a line of direct descent from Chanel’s Cuir de Russie (1927) and Lanvin’s Scandal(1932). It is less urbane than either of those perfumes. There was always something brutal about Bandit, that wasn’t in either Cuir or Scandal, and possibly this accounts for the aura of danger the perfume has projected since its formulation.
You can see the abrupt change come over what began as a leather formula- the Cuir de Russie – with the addition of oakmoss and castoreum (an animalic originally derived from the underside of a species of beaver, now synthetically reproduced) the perfume became even darker than its predecessors. It also used a large dose of isobutyl quinoline that gave it the characteristically heavy modification of a Cellier composition, another example being the whallop of galbanum in Vent Vert I’d guess.
Do you have to be Kim Cattrall to wear it now? Funny you should ask, since her character in ‘Sex and the City’ was said to wear Guerlain’s Parure, another animalic chypre from 1975 predicated partly on, you’ve guessed it…Bandit. I think a few people besides Kim can get away with it. Bandit is the friend of smokers, those otherwise friendless creatures, and probably was designed to be. Like Caron’s Tabac Blond, Bandit was built for a different age. People smoked. They also washed less and had their clothes dry cleaned less often. You were not perfuming on the blank slate of the air; you as the perfumer were contending with a densely populated fog of smoke, tobacco, fur, sweat, fancy soap, and face powder.
These days, you’re dealing with a sparse olfactory population consisting of Glade, something made by Proctor and Gamble, and L’ Eau d’Issey. You can out-smell that watery mix with one scent molecule tied behind your back.
I do like Bandit. I find it, along with its now lost child Cabochard, to be a godsend in the worst hot days because Bandit is so dark that it seems to generate its own shade. You can sort of crawl under it like a lizard under a rock, and wait out the dog days of August. In this sense I think of Bandit and its kin as seasonal, and yes, you noticed I said kin. Bandit turns out to have several living relatives, many of whom you may like better than the old Banditto. Here’s a list. Every one is basically an animalic chypre and very dark:
Jolie Madame, Balmain- Leather with violets
Miss Balmain, Balmain- herbal bouquet over leather
Azuree Estee, Lauder- leather with geranium and ylang-ylang
Derby Guerlain- I know for men, leather a smooth version of Cabochard. Pricey, but worth it.
Koto, Shiseido- a very dark leather
Sikkim, Lancome- leathery, slightly lighter than Bandit
Aramis, Aramis- close to Cabochard
La Nuit ,Paco Rabanne- very animalic leather