Ivoire de Balmain (Balmain)

Il planera toujours un mystère autour d’Ivoire. Une légende interrompue, l’aura d’un monde d’ailleurs, de sentiments inconnus, d’émotions au-delà de notre culture.
--Pierre Balmain
Salome -- the titular beanpole of Tom Robbins' 1990 novel Skinny Legs and All -- is a gauche, comic-book reading virgin too shy to utter a word in front of strangers. But when this girl-geek picks up a tambourine, she "(redefines) the art of belly dancing without really trying, like a somnambulant who writes original love poems in her sleep" (Pg. 348). With every hip-shimmy, Salome tells a devastating fable; onlookers grasp her meaning exactly, though she never opens her mouth to explain. It is said she can bring both men and women to orgasm without even glancing in their direction. Other, older dancers may be more polished in their movements, but the author assures us that they are "fluoridated tap water compared to Salome's gourd of spiced mare's milk".

It is Salome who comes to mind whenever I touch a drop or two of vintage Ivoire to my skin. Its scent transforms mundane, everyday me into a mystery, brimming with an ancient significance I have yet to fully decipher. It unravels itself slowly and sensuously, letting drop one veil at a time.... and I watch transfixed, arrested by the knowledge that all too soon, this dance is fated to draw to a close.

As we speak (and as per this announcement on NST), Ivoire has been re-released under a new licensing agreement. One can still admire its original notes and flacon at Balmain's website-- though presumably not for long. The classic opaque white cube filled with golden-hued perfume is now crystal-clear, the better through which to view a liquid tinted pale pink in accordance with current trends. An ivory tile with the perfume's name embossed in black text (and a token accent collar around the bottle's neck) appear to be the only "ivory" about the new Ivoire de Balmain.

What about the fragrance? I haven't yet had the opportunity to sniff it, but compared to the incredibly complex list of scent elements ascribed to the original (see below), Ivoire 2.0's official notes (orange, mandarin, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, galbanum, vetiver, cedar, patchouli and vanilla) suggests a terse, transparent abridgement with all extraneous baggage left behind. I'll give it a fair and honest try, but my instincts wisely warn me not to expect any connection between new and old. The name may be the same, but reincarnation may be too much to hope for.

Unlike other "green goddesses" who enunciate every one of their notes crisply and with a certain froideur typical of the galbanum chypre tribe, the original Ivoire de Balmain (1980) speaks in a honeyed slur, as though its mouth were full of melting vanilla ice cream. Where one expects sharp corners and dangerous edges, Ivoire presents the wearer with an experience as rounded, smooth, and creamily opaque as the surface of its iconic alabaster bottle.

If the old Ivoire really did contain every essence claimed on its behalf, its composition reflects the most incredible skill and restraint-- for in the end, all its complexity is transcribed with amazing tact, much like a belly dancer's subtlest swivel is the product of supreme control. Ivoire never boasts. It carries a sense of benevolent dispassion-- clearly, it's there to be worn, not to wear you. Its effect is that of density, but not unwieldiness; coolness, but not frigidity; spiciness, but no heat; sweetness, but no sentiment. It suits both the hottest and coldest of days, the simplest and most elaborate of occasions, the sunniest and darkest of moods. In it, I find an all-purpose anodyne to a rather prickly world.

To borrow Robbins' phrasing, I won't know whether the new Ivoire de Balmain is tap water or mare's milk until I try it. Some things may be lost in translation. If too terribly so, I'll stick to the original language-- however close it may be to disappearing from our tongues.

Scent Elements: A little confusing. Balmain lists mandarin, bergamot, raspberry, galbanum, rose, jasmine, iris, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, pepper, nutmeg, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum, and tonka bean. Basenotes adds aldehydes, lemon, hyacinth, orchid, cedar, and and musk. Fragrantica further adds chamomile, asafoetida, violet, artemisia, marigold, cinnamon, neroli, and incense. If it really contains all of the above, then Ivoire is the ultimate poundcake. Another slice? Don't mind if I do.