If you’ve never encountered Vent Vert, you are in for a bracing experience.
It’s said to be the first of the green perfumes, composed by Germaine Cellier in 1947. Personally, I think the first green note was Alpona from 1939, but a lot happened in France during the mid-forties and it’s not surprising that the perfume dialogue was interrupted for a while. The green innovation, which may well have been Ernest Daltroff’s originally, was taken up again after the war by Ms. Cellier, with very successful results.
Writing about Vent Vert is a strange experience for me. I was far more familiar with Alpona than with VV for the odd reason that I never met the Balmain until I’d been wearing Alpona for a year or so. The formula I encountered was the re-orchestration done in the early nineties, and I did not cotton to it, although, yes indeedy, I did own a bottle. I was busy wearing Patou’s Que Sais-Je, and Caline, at the time, and also Alpona.
The version of Vent Vert then available was done by Calice Becker, whose work I know now from the By Killians, but I found her version of Vent Vert too sweet. Green and sweet is a combination I’ve never liked, and I assumed from this encounter that Vent Vert was not for me. Well, wrongo!
The notes for the version I knew from 1994 are: galbanum, citrus and peach over a strong rose, lily of the valley, and hyacinth heart. The base was oakmoss and styrax over vetiver and musk. However, the original Vent Vert was a lot less pussy footed. There was a strong hay note in there. Here are the notes from 1985: jonquil, lily of the valley, narcissus, rose, sandal, hay, vetiver. See? A blast of a perfume made to knock the scents of civilization clean out of your lungs. I’m guessing it was no accident that Ms. Cellier was a friend of Fauvist artists. You have to admire her audacity – Vent Vert pulled no punches.
Alpona, meanwhile, was green, but if you want to trace perfume ancestries, it’s the great grand-mommy of two very different successes: Vent Vert, yes, but surprisingly, also Pamplelune. There‘s a distinct grapefruit note in Alpona to go with its green herbs. The effect is still outdoorsy. It’s fresh, but the lungful of air you get when you swing this window open is Swiss – not Ricola, but recognizably Swiss nonetheless. Alpona was not so abstractly, universally green, as old Vent Vert.
Caron reformulated the scent as they did with practically everything in production, and the result was to make it more of a citrus scent than a green one, but the Alpona I originally smelled, balanced with remarkable skill on the line between citrus and green perfumes. It was clear, not too sweet, wearable by both women and men, and had a clarity which I don’t find anywhere these days except in the dry down of Bellodgia in extract. The herbal notes made it green and the grapefruit note (almost a candied note) kept bitterness out of it. Alpona was a marvel, but it was reformulated once too often and the charm of its hybrid note was lost.
The other day while passing through Neiman Marcus I came across Vent Vert in new packaging, and since hope springs within me as persistently as it does in all cynics, I tried it.
Well, this is yet another version of Vent Vert, but a lot closer to the original that I smelled as far back as my childhood in the sixties. This version of VV is bottled in the same bottle as Balmain’s Amber Gris, with a green ribbon tied under Amber Gris’s disco ball of a stopper, and although the formula does have the same basic sequence, this time I‘d say most, if not all, of the components in the formula are synthetic.
Still, you can smell that old emerald monster let out to swirl across your skin. And I must say, I’ve missed this smell. If only they would bring back Alpona….