There are a couple ways to look at Miss Balmain, and both of them involve a comparison with Bandit, which is no doubt its reference scent. (Germaine Cellier, the perfumer who composed both these masterpieces, was known to reuse her famous accords in different compositions.)
In the first comparison, Miss Balmain is Bandit Lite — not as daring, not as angular, and not as harsh as Bandit, the representative fragrance from what Luca Turin has called Germaine Cellier's "brutalist" school of perfume-making. Perhaps Miss Balmain is the dominatrix-in-training who will at some point drop all her feminine signifiers (flowers and softness) and take up the whip Bandit saves for her for when she is ready to graduate.
But if you don't think of Bandit as the reference scent, but rather as the building block accord, then Miss Balmain is the perfected, more fully matured Bandit, rounded out with its greens and florals, every note singing in harmony. Bandit is like a saturated, underexposed photograph whose brightness (florals and green notes) glow almost imperceptibly under its cloak of darkness. Miss Balmain is the same picture ratcheted up one full stop, so that those invisible greens and florals come forward. Or, Miss Balmain is like those paintings that get cleaned up by art historians, revealing color and brightness where there was only brooding darkness before.
Unlike the Jolie Madame, Miss Balmain's sweetness isn't candied and doesn't stick around for as long as it does in JM. It's also flanked by more tartness, which offsets the sweetness for those like me who aren't fond of it as the predominant character of a perfume.
When I sniff Miss Balmain, I get the same impression of overwhelming beauty as I do with Cellier's Vent Vert. It's an "everything all at once" scent, joyous and kaleidescopic in its loveliness. There's a rush of sweetness in the gardenia, jasmine and narcissus immediately followed by tartness and then the sophisticated chypre base.
Cellier fragrances like Vent Vert and Bandit give me the kind of satisfaction that Vietnamese food does. Vietnamese food often operates on the principle that each bite should give you a little bit of everything: saltiness, umami or savoriness from meat or seafood, spice, brightness (often from citrus), freshness from herbs and greens, and some kind of crunch or interesting texture.When I smell Miss Balmain, I get the same satisfaction I feel from a perfectly crisp-fried spring roll I've wrapped in lettuce, mint and herbs and dipped in citrusy-spicy-fish sauce: the sense that I am appreciating a perfectly blended, but easily readable, combination of contrasting notes at the same time.
As I inhale Miss Balmain's top notes, I can smell perfect rays of gardenia, narcissus, jasmine and citrus shining through the dryer notes of leather, patchouli, vetiver and oakmoss, like rainbows on a gloomy day. In short: vintage Miss Balmain is a stunner.
Top notes: Aldehydes, coriander, gardenia, citrus oils, thujone
Heart notes: Carnation, narcissus, orris root, jasmine, rose, jonquil
Base notes: Leather, amber, patchouli, castoreum, moss, vetiver
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