A Green Wind Blows Again

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….

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21 thoughts on “A Green Wind Blows Again

  1. Hmmm. I’ve been dreading the idea that they might have reformulated Ivoire and broken it when they went to those new bottles; it didn’t occur to me that they might reformulate Vent Vert and fix it. Thank you for giving me the idea. :) Now I need to get to a department store with a decent perfume department.

    My Vent Verts include a vial of the vintage from The Perfumed Court, a bottle of modern (the one immediately before this latest repackaging), and an old-but-not-as-old-as-I’d-like bottle from eBay. The kinda-old is far more beautiful than the modern in a one-on-each-arm test, but I hesitate to compare it to the vial, for fear that I’ll find it a pale imitation.

    • You probably know the older formulation, ie pre 1990, better than I do, if you’ve got all that. Smelling this new one, recognize the scent which is why I think it’s been done over, because the Becker one smelled different to me than what I’d huffed out of old bottles in Italy. I never smelled the other re-do (Feisthauer’s?)
      This one won’t smell as good as your Ebay find, but the basic fragrance smells like a fifties scent to me, in synthetic form, and lasts well. I wore it all day and the remainder of it came off my skin, oh about six hours after spritzing. Bear in mind, my skin holds onto everything like grim death so YMMV!

  2. I remain puzzled by my inability to like Vent Vert. Possibly it matters which version you try? I had bought via eBay a small bottle of parfum in a vintage-style packaging (rectangular bottle, label on corner, grooved B on brown lid) that I think may have been the 1990s version – and found it dull. Pawned it off on a fume friend, who said it was great.

    Tried a sample of “vintage edt” from one of the decant services. Didn’t like that either – it was dull. Rose-jasmine-LOTV been-there-smelled-that. Huh. I dunno.

    Okay, question: which is greener, Vent Vert or Silences? Vent Vert or No. 19?

    • You did have the vintage version there, or all my old perfume books are off. Myself, had the peculiar candle stick bottle with the green plastic grasses/ rushes blowing sideways. Mine was mostly a rosy scent with a galbanum top. Haven’t smelled the vintage except on people or out of bottles, so can’t recall that precisely. This new version I wore all day yesterday again (I was passing through Neiman’s) and that one has galbanum and a very long lasting sappy wet hyacinth note on my skin. A puddle jumper of a scent in Wellington boots. Dry down slow in coming, a soft fuzzy thing, rather pleasing, smell some rose and musk in there I think.

      Now which of these is greener? Silences, VV or No19? Hm. Is this like asking a computer to compute pi out to the last decimal point?

      Alright, Deep Thought I ain’t, BUT – for me, No19 is more green than it used to be because it no longer has amber and leather in the dry down (if Undina drops by she should be able to settle the question because she knows 19 inside and out) but less green than Silences. Silences in its new iteration is extremely green but elegant. This version of Vent Vert is more peppy, more playful than elegant. So, back against the wall in order of grassitude, I’d say: Vent Vert, Silences and then NO19.

      Or, in other words, 42.

      • Ah, 42. Of course.

        I would have said that by MY lights, Silences is way greener than any version of No. 19 (I like the modern in EdP, I love the vintage in EdT, and I don’t like the parfum, which is just freaky because since when do I not like Chanel in parfum?? since 19, I s’pose), but perhaps those samples of older VV had suffered some age damage because they weren’t very green at all.

        I lurve me some Silences, especially in PdT. Am utterly, utterly dying to try the new formulation but nobody has samples for sale, and I can only find it online at New London Pharmacy and… was it Bendel? I’ve almost got up enough nerve to order it unsniffed.

        • And, really, asked the question because a) that Vent Vert simply did not read as “green” to me and b) was having a discussion with another friend about the green continuum, about which we disagreed.

          To my mind, “green” and “citrus” are different things, and while there may be such a thing as a “green citrus,” or vice versa, green-citrus such as Miller et Bertaux Green, Green, Green and Green does not read as specifically “green” to me. It’s citrus with some green notes, and it bores me. It does occur to me that I am probably nitpicky to the extreme about my preferences in green perfumes.

          • Flying blind on Green, Green, Green and Green because I haven’t smelled it, but Alpona was sort of candied grapefruit over herbs like…old fashioned hard candies. You know, real sugar and real herbs and not fructose and some flavoring material from IFF? It did remind me of part of Pamplelune but the dry down was green, and maybe a bit Absinth-y.

            On green fragrances I am picky as well. Has to do with the wearability of green scents don’t you think? Flowers are easier on human skin, and so are woods and resins but leaves, they’re difficult. When it works though, there just is nothing else like it.

            As to new Silences I fear you will be disappointed because you know the original so well. If I can score a sample I will send it to you if you like.

            Oh and, have you tried new Ivoire? That is much more floral and much less green to me in original and updated, but what do you think of it?

    • Re:

      “Okay, question: which is greener, Vent Vert or Silences? Vent Vert or No. 19?”

      I chime in rather late:

      No. 19 is a more polished, sharper green – clean sharp shiny green claws. Vent Vert is a mossier, dirtier green. No. 19 sits out in the open, eyeing you, and leaps on you with slashing claws if you get out of line. Vent Vert hides out of sight in the forest; you won’t even know she’s there unless she drags you off to her cave, and no one knows what that smells like because no one ever comes back.

      Ahem. Apparently I see both of them as dangerous. :) Unlike, say, Miyake’s A Scent and Estee Lauder Jasmine White Moss, both of which are affable and friendly, Miyake in a much more modern and less formal way.

      Another vision: No. 19 is Emerald City; Vent Vert is the Cowardly Lion’s forest.

      Silences, I remember as aldehyde-heavy and fizzy, to the point that I couldn’t really judge the green.

      • A nice take on the two greenies there, and apparently these two are predators for you? Eying my cat as write this reply, she is a very settled moggie, having a nap with one eye on the window in case there’s any squirrel/bird action going on. Maybe Silences is like her, too comfortable to do any leaping out?

        All this discussion of greens has brought another old perfume back to mind namely Cialenga the old Balenciaga scent. It was a dark green, and very rural smelling, a real barefoot smell, sort of halfway between L’Air de Rien and No19 and I used to wear it in the summers. Don’t suppose you’ve ever come across it, though it surfaces from time to time on Ebay. Called a green floral though it was almost a green chypre. Maybe something you would like?

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  4. Here’s the thing (sshhhh!): I don’t like Ivoire. I do not care for so much soap on my moss. I do think the drydown of the older stuff is absolutely lovely, but I suuuuuufffer through all that soap.

    (No, really, I do bathe. I just like my soap IN the shower, not sprayed on afterward.)

    I am expecting the newer version of Silences to be less green, more floral, less… er, teethy, more friendly. So who can say if I might be disappointed or not? I believe there’s room for a nice floral, heavy-on-the-green-stuff.

  5. While we’re talking greens, Providence Perfume Co’s Moss Gown is a non-threatening green, but in a self-contained catlike way, rather than being sparkling and giggly. I suspect that a bottle is inevitable.

    • Have seen that one and am curious about Providence. Do like a good natural perfume when I can find one, and love oakmoss. Will have to give it a go. My list of to- trys this year is already growing.

  6. Wow, ol’ VV has been through a few changes! I received a bottle of Vent Vert in a swap, and assumed it was the current one. The bottle looks like the one pictured here on Fragrantica. Do you happen to know the vintage? My skin does not handle green fragrances well, but this doesn’t smell bad on me. I gussy it up with some dabs of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ “Vent Vert Type” in oil form – hers is a bit more citrusy.

    • That bottle-which I had too- is either Calice Becker’s reformulation from the early 90′s, which was the one I had, or else Natalie Feisthauer’s, from some time in the oughties. Now there’s this new bottle, and it does not smell to me like my memory of the Calice Becker version.
      The Becker one was nice, I think this version is even nicer, but either way you can’t go too far wrong.
      Does Dawn still sell her version of VV?

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