Jolie Madame Vintage Perfume Oil (Balmain)

If reincarnation is fact rather than theory, somewhere in my Paleolithic past I lived surrounded by three things: forest, smoke, and leather. I wore suede next to my skin, tanned butter-soft and supple as cloth; I stitched together my shelter from it and even (as I've dreamt before) played shamanic rhythms upon it. And more likely than not, I spent long hours out under the emerald forest canopy tending a massive wood-fired cauldron of bubbling plant resin, an essential component of the leather-curing process.

In a more recent incarnation, I achieved the same synergy with cigarettes, handbags, and moss perfumes. My leather this time around was the hard variety, to suit a tough-talking career gal pounding city pavement; the fire around which my tribe huddled was the flame of the closest Zippo, from which we lit our Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields. For a time I wore Coty Chypre because it seemed more rough-and-ready than the buxom, powdery scents my mother's generation favored. But when I first sniffed Jolie Madame, my amygdala lit up like the Fourth of July. Forest, smoke, leather, violets, danger, femininity, what-have-you-- all in one neat little square-cornered bottle.

One morning, I handed what was left of Chypre to a nine-year-old girl on the elevator. Last I heard, her dolly liked it just fine.

Empyreumatic is the old-fashioned descriptive term for the scent I crave: a smoky, dangerous smell, like black leather left to bake and crackle in full, ruthless sunlight. As time goes by and I explore the world of perfume more widely, I find myself leaning ever more inexorably in its direction. I have learned what makes it: dry oakmoss and galbanum, bitter inky vetivers, the guaiacol in old vanillin, phenols and creosols found in birch tar, and a host of deceptively tender flowers: carnation, ylang-ylang, mignonette, immortelle, and narcissus. Pale, limpid colors do not blend well with this bouquet; nor do fragile forms or textures. It calls for grey tailored wool and blood-red lips and black four-inch stilettoes-- all of which are right up my alley.

Jolie Madame and I have been through an equal number of incarnations by now, yet while I have grown progressively tougher and more keen-eyed, Jolie Madame has gone backwards, retreating into callow greenness according to the latest reports. I find this a great pity. Among other things, it signals to me that even the inheritance of the ages is finite. My prehistoric past, those idyllic savage hours beneath the trees, comes down to what is left in this little vintage bottle. When it is all gone and I am stranded in this sterile concrete landscape, where and how will I hunt for more?

Scent Elements: Gardenia, artemisia, bergamot, coriander, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, rose, jonquil, orris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, musk, castoreum, leather, civet