Monday, November 1, 2010

Violet Week: Balmain - Jolie Madame

Why Grandma, what big violets you have!
"Jolie Madame is a homage to woman in all the splendour of her charm, her experience, her appetite for life. I created Jolie Madame for a woman whose sense of adventure allowed her to follow her desires to their ultimate conclusion; to accede, in all her sensuality, to freedom of choice and a sense of being in control of every situation. For women whose uncompromising nature and taste for discovery and risk-taking gives them a love of adventure. Jolie Madame is the fragrance of adventure."  - Pierre Balmain
Jolie Madame was created in 1953 by the famous perfumer Germaine Cellier, who also created my beloved Bandit. Like Bandit, Jolie madame is a bold leather chypre, but where Bandit is green galbanum, leather and naughtiness, Jolie Madame is green violets, leather and smooth sophistication.

Jolie Madame is one of those classic perfumes that perfumistas rave about in vintage formula and grieve the recent re-formulations. Well, I've never smelled the vintage, but however wonderful it may have been, I think the current formulation is terrific. Violet perfumes aren't as popular now as they once were, and leather chypres are rare as well.  I bought my bottle of EdT this year at a discount, which I fervently hope is not a sign that Balmain is planning to discontinue it or change it too much.

On first spray, I smell a combination of aldehydes, violets and a sachet of dried rose petals, that has me thinking "Hello, Grandma." The opening of Jolie Madame has that old-fashioned perfumey smell that no doubt will make many think "old lady perfume." But hang on, because Grandma has a few surprises up her perfectly tailored sleeve.

The heart of Jolie Madame is the smoothest, buttery suede like the inside of a leather pocketbook that held makeup and violet pastilles. The leather creeps in like a shadow over the violets. Around the edges of the leather I can still smell the grassy, green violets, but I also smell a bouquet of rose, jasmine, iris and tuberose. The leather is slightly smoky, maybe Grandma had some cigarettes in that pocketbook as well.

The far dry down is just as lovely, the cedar, moss, vetiver and violet leaf leave a woody, earthy, mossy, slightly grassy smell like the best fairytale forest, dotted with violets. To me, Jolie Madame is anything but "old lady." It makes me feel sophisticated, powerful and slightly wicked, as leather perfumes do. Jolie Madame isn't actually Grandma at all, she's the Big Bad Wolf.

House: Balmain
Nose: Germaine Cellier
Head notes
: Petitgrain, Cloves, Neroli
Heart notes: Jasmine absolute, Orange blossom, Violet leaves, Tuberose absolute, Lilac
Base notes: Oakmoss, Patchouli essence, Tobacco, Cedarwood

It's Violet Week! Check out the violet reviews at Muse In Wooden Shoes and Redolent of Spices.


  1. The more of your reviews I read, the more convinced I am that we have similar skin, as Jolie Madame morphs from Grandma to pocketbook lining in just the same way on me, though it is a while since I last tried it. And it is so cheap too!

    We don't like all the same things, but if I want to know how something smells, this is where I come!

  2. Hi flittersniffer! Thank you, that's the best compliment.

  3. This is truly a lovely perfume and a great review! The top notes are quite something and one must wait a bit for the magic to happen. However, the drydown is lovely and far from Grandma.

  4. Great review of a perfume I know only by name and reputation. I'm thrilled to hear this classic smells beautiful regardless of reformulation. I'm putting this "big bad wolf" on my must-try list.

    If you wrote perfume copy or worked as a fragrance SA, I think you would have much success. You sell me on pretty much everything you review!

  5. Hi Josephine, that's exactly the way I smell it too.

    Hi JoanElaine: Thank you, I'm really flattered.

  6. Very nice review, K. I still have not smelled the current version (from what I've read, the word is that it is a bit thinner but still smells like itself). My EdT (90's, maybe? bought it on eBay) is not all that friendly; half the time I pick it up, it growls at me and I have to put it back down. The vintage parfum never growls, though, and is just gorgeous.


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