Friday, October 23, 2009

Germaine Cellier (1909-1976): Innovator and Iconoclast

In the pantheon of great modern perfumers it is not often that we come across women, at least during the first half of the 20th century. Amongst them, one star shines brightest, that of Germaine Cellier; untrammeled by convention, free-spirited in an era that frowned upon most of her customs, but which could not deny her bold, ebullient approach to perfumery. It is no accident that Guy Robert's book, Les Sens du Parfum, himself the stuff of legend, dedicates precious space to her opus.

Her wit wondrously helped her into coming up with stunning compositions: The galbanum-souled Vent Vert by Balmain with its biting verdancy forever changing the visage of florals, the knife-scathing outlaw of Bandit with its intense leathery bitterness of quinolines in 1944, the oriental passport of Visa in 1946, the buttery radiance of tuberose in 1948's Fracas (all three for Robert Piguet), the nostalgic violet chypre Jolie Madame for Balmain (1953) which reworked the Bandit theme in more muted tones, as well as the masculine Monsieur Balmain which proved a success with both sexes.

One of her mysteriously disappearing acts is "Elysées 63.84" for Balmain, the name standing for the telephone number of the couture house, as well as a geranium-based Eau which Pierre Balmain fiercely guarded for his own use. For Nina Ricci she collaborates with Christian Bérard who designed the romantic heart flacon in Coeur Joie, an elegant and uncharacteristically delicate floral aldehydic of great refinement (1946). For Nina Ricci she also composes Fille d'Eve, with its "dirty hair" cistus note. Hers is the lesser known, but none the less majestic, La Fuite des Heures for Balenciaga in 1949, a Provençal herbs and jasmine formula of great radiance and tenacity. Among her portfolio there is also the agrestic Eau d'Herbes (Herbal Water) conceived for Hermès at an unspecified date during the 1950s meant to recreate just cut herbs, which remains an enigma, and several compositions for Elizabeth Arden for distribution in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s. (Click the links for my reviews on the scents) ....

This is part of a fuller article that was published on Fragrantica.com. For a comprehensive glimpse into one of the truly great perfumers of modern perfumery, please read my full article on this permalink.

Photo portrait of Germaine Cellier via xiangshuiblog.cn


  1. Interesting that she also worked for Roure along with Yuri Gutsatz.

    I love several of her fragrances.

  2. Superb piece of writing. I am so happy you have provided this resource for us all. I wish VISA resembled its original more.

  3. Karin,

    it is indeed! How old is Yuri?
    (great coverage you did, btw!!)
    I think her perfumes have such strong character that they're memorable even to those who don't love them. Isn't that simply ingenious!

  4. C,

    thanks so much for your kind compliment and I do hope that my effort will be a resource for interested parties.
    Visa is very nice even if different; as I understand it's very difficult to replicate the old RBD bases exactly, but the formulae are kept regardless.

    Hope you're well and thanks for stopping by! :D

  5. Love, love, love Vent Vert. I scored a vintage EdP some years back and it turned my head and nose around about galbanum. Off to read the big piece on Fragrantica.

  6. A,

    indeed I recall very well! Vent Vert in the original used to be so bracing and so fresh in a most unexpected way that it truly paved the way for the others to follow. A pity the reissues don't hold a candle to it.

  7. I wonder if anyone has ever considered making a film about Cellier. It seems to me that any number of "bankable" stars would love to play her.

  8. Peggy14:28

    I have a very special relatioship with Jolie Madame. It is still one of my most favourite items in my wardrobe.
    Very interesting article. Very interesting personality.In my opinion she looks a true artist of the perfumery. All of her creations have someone who truly loves them. Now that I am getting older and more mature I would like to try Fracas to see how it works with me. Not easily to come across with Robert's Piquet fragances though...

  9. I regret not snatching Elysees on eBay but I couldn't afford it that time. I however got Vent Vert and I'm looking forward to trying it.

  10. L,

    alas, it is VERY rare that Elysees, so an opportunity lost. But I know how one has to stop at some point.

    Vent Vert in the original formula is nothing short of a revelation!
    Hope you enjoy!!

  11. Helg,
    I found so much odd and rare stuff for a trifle when trolling around the internets that I'm aware that one day, karma will bite me in the hind. Next time.

  12. Helg, you continue to bring forth such good material. I'm glad you do what you do! :)

  13. Anonymous16:41

    dear elena, I think that Cellier made also the amazing Nina Ricci Fille d'Eve, didn't she?
    I have some Elysee 6483, if you want some...

  14. D,

    how absent-minded of me, especially since we have already discussed its heavy use of cistus! You're absolutely right.
    And as to your kind offer, how can I possibly refuse? I'd love to try it out!!

  15. S,

    you're most welcome on the material, hope to provide some reference for the more obscure aspects of perfumery :-)

  16. ok I will send you some elysee, with other frags in a few days!
    another thing about piguet calypso, there is a likeness between it and guerlain quai aux fleurs (1950), yes yes!!

  17. D,

    you're killing me :-))
    Je vais l'attender avec beaucoup d'impatience! Et une comparaison remarkable, sans doute!

  18. Anonymous08:04

    Hi there, I love your blog and I wonder if you might consider translating the recent Vanity Fair France article on Germaine Cellier and including the translation as an appendix to this very blogpost? Unfortunately I do not know French, but when I've tried to translate the article using Google & Bing translations, the text is rather incoherent. I think there must be many idioms and colloquialisms in the article, since it is a reminiscence by Cellier's niece. Here is the link to the full article - I hope you might consider translating it for all of us vintage perfume lovers to be able to know more about her, she is a very fascinating figure. I for one would love a full biography of her! Perhaps someday. Link to article:



Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu below the text box (Anonymous is fine if you don't want the other options) and hit Publish! And you're set!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin