Friday, October 30, 2009

Balenciaga Paris: new fragrance

A while ago we had been thrilled by the choice of Charlotte Gainsbourg, shot by Steven Meisel, as the new face of the upcoming Balenciaga signature women’s scent, due out in February in Europe (March and April for Asia). Called Balenciaga Paris, it is the first fragrance authored by Balenciaga and Coty Inc., a partnership which began in 2008.
“We’ve been basically out of [the fragrance] business for almost 15, 20 years,” said Isabelle Guichot, Balenciaga president and chief executive officer. “It was important for us to wait until the right moment to really express ourselves back in the industry.” "The aim is to make Balenciaga Paris into a new classic", said Ghesquière and something tells me they're eyeing the uber-success of Narciso Rodriguez For Her in that regard, especially in view of the family in which they're positioning their scent, more of which below. The Balenciaga portfolio included excellent, elegant and distinctive scents (right down to the early 80s Michelle), making this a tall order. Despite the relatively restrained distribution (about 2000 doors worldwide) the expectations run to 90 million $ during the first year, so I would assume that the scent should reflect a wide acceptance potential, especially since Nicolas specified they aimed to reach a wider audience than the one they reach with their accessories.

Right off the bat, I should start by saying that regarding any name conflict which one might be thinking is afoot between the new Balecianga Paris and the classic YSL Paris from the 1980s, we shouldn't hold our breath: As discussed with my collaborator AlbertCan, YSL Beaute and Balencianga both belong to PPR (otherwise known as Gucci Group) which makes a legal case nonsensical as the compensation would come out of the same pocket. Additionally according to the Fragrance Foundation and Michael Edwards, YSL registered their own scent as "Paris d'Yves Saint Laurent" so "Balenciaga Paris" is probably marginally different enough to make the cut. YSL is busy promoting their own Parisienne right now, so the more Paris is heard in fragrance names the better. But enough about the name!

Balenciaga's house designer Nicolas Ghesquière took the plunge for the first time in fragrance launching aided by the young but talented perfumer Olivier Polge (Jacques Polge's of Chanel son) of IFF. The idea for the scent was mining on favourite smells Nicolas could think of and then arranging it in the "both artistic and mathematical process" that creating a scent is all about, according to him. His memory banks contained floor wax and flowers (violet and carnation), plus more urban odors, like gasoline, according to Caroline Javoy, group vice president of Balenciaga, Chloé and Jil Sander at Coty.
Ghesquière said he wanted to give the floral fragrance a contemporary “twist” with something urban and slightly “metallic.” Early on, it was decided Balenciaga’s first scent would be in the floral chypre family — specifically, a violet chypre. “Violet has been used in the fragrance industry for years, but normally more for the powdery effect,” said Javoy. “What Olivier did here was use the fresh, natural effect of violet leaves, and what’s new also is that the violet is really at the core of the fragrance.” Polge integrated redistilled woods, such as cedar and patchouli, too. “It is not a romantic floral,” said Ghesquière. “It’s definitely the mix of tradition and something quite contemporary and urban.”
A violet chypre might recall Balmain's Jolie Madame, but I deduce we're not faced with such a deliciously old-fashioned prospect for various reasons having to do with tastes, focus groups et al. A propos the violet discussion, might I remind readers once again that violet as a note bears absolutely no similarity to violet leaves, as both the materials used to render them as well as the olfactory profile of the ingredients and the composed accords have very little relation, if at all. Violet leaves are par excellence used in masculine colognes for their cucumber-like green metallic freshness which shimmers most suavely in Eau de Cartier.

In the ads for Balenciaga Paris, the left-hand color shot is a still life including the fragrance and a column and an egg, architectural and fashion references. In the right-side, black-and-white image, Charlotte Gainsbourg sits on a Spanish patio (alluding to Balenciaga’s place of origin), while the black-and-white marble floor is a nod to the original Balenciaga boutique design in Paris. The pattern of the prism on the bottle itself (alluding to the plinths and portals in Balenciaga boutiques) and the cracked egg effect on the cap (referencing Italian design from the 1980s, 18th-century enameled vases and the graphics of Balenciaga’s vintage fabrics; or a classic football ball, take your pick!) present themselves as vintage touches seen through the porthole of a modern creation.

“White and ivory are two strong Balenciaga colors,” said Ghesquière. “I wanted this fragrance to be a little character. It has a head, a neckline and a body.” Balenciaga Paris’ streamlined outer packaging harkens back to the brand’s vintage boxes for fragrances (largely out of distribution), such as Le Dix.

In France, the 30-ml. eau de parfum spray will sell for 57 euros, or $84.45; the 50-ml. eau de parfum, for 75 euros, or $111.15, and the 75-ml. eau de parfum, for 94 euros, or $139.25. Ancillaries include a 200-ml. shower gel and a 200-ml. body lotion, for 37 euros and 40 euros, or $54.80 and $59.25, respectively.

Quotes & bottle pic from "Balenciaga Returns to the Fragrance Game" article by Jennifer Weil on WWD. Ad from the Spring 2009 fashions through


  1. The bottle is stunning. I have very strong negative reaction to "violet" in the description -- actually, I have a strong negative reaction to the description, full-stop, as issued by the company. These days, I don't believe a word of the press releases -- I'll wait for folks I trust (like you!) to review the stuff and then draw my conclusions.

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    The bottle does look unusual and thought-out in its detail, although I am not sure on the cracked egg detail myself. I very much like the shape of the flacon's "body" however, like a little Balenciaga cape!
    I think this is not the violet of yore with its powdery or sweet vibe, trust me on this, violet leaves is a completely different note. However, having not smelled it yet, of course I cannot pronounce any judgment as you
    're absolutely right: Press releases and notes can lie. We will see...
    Thanks for the loyalty!! :-)

  3. I love the bottle and even the cracked egg stopper. I like violet leaf as a note but suspect this will be as dissapointing as all the other big house releases of late because with those kinds of sales expectation it's going to have to be quite middle of the road. I live in hope though!

  4. rappleyea12:45

    I've long been a fan of the Balenciaga fragrances, so I'll live in hope on this new one, although words like "urban", "gasoline" and "floor wax" make it hard. I love the bottle, including the crackle glaze top. Look forward to your review, E.

  5. K,

    alas, that was my thought too, when I read about them wanting it to have mass appeal :-( Then again if Eau de Cartier can be so lovely even if mainstream, then they might do another one like that? I don't know, I live in hope as well.

  6. D,

    personally it's not the gasoline and waxed floors which scare me (those can be subversive, a welcome touch in a Coty release) but the suspicion that all these things are just mentioned so as we get excited to try only to be met with another pale "nouveau chypre" in an attenuated form. But let's not jinx it!!
    I will be sure to review it when available to me :-)

  7. Looking forward to your review. I too find the bottle attractive, and will be waiting to see if the liquid inside is enjoyable. I have less disdain for "nouveau chypres" than you do, probably because I find classic ones difficult.

    I really liked Michelle, even though it's so potent, it's not at all my usual thing. And Le Dix is so crisply, competently, elegant it struck me as being a perfect office scent. Rumba is wonderful with warm sweaters - I love the "hot dust" effect in that one.

  8. M,

    sorry for the late reply. Just saw your comment. :/
    There are a few "nouveau chypres" which I quite love (NR comes to mind, Lovely too!) but on the whole they're more floral woodies, it's a taxonomy misnomer to call them chypres really, however the term has stuck, so I'm playing along.

    "hot dust" effect sounds ever so fabulous! Reminds me to revisit Rumba!!

  9. Anonymous00:00

    I smelled the fragrance in Paris today and it is gorgeous! Definitely one of the best perfumes on the market (or soon to be)...

  10. Have you tried this yet? I got it as a gift from my husband last night and absolutely adore signature scent is olene (day) and allure (night) so this is smthg v new to me, quite different than both of the scents i use. this reminds me of jil sander, am i totally off? would love to know your thoughts if you have tried this. best wishes, shayma
    ps have loved your blog for a while now!

  11. Anon,

    thanks! It's not run-of-the-mill, which is good!

  12. Shayma,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting and sorry for the late reply. Just saw this.
    You're lucky, enjoy your fragrant gift (aren't they lovely)! I can see it being closer to Olene than Allure, although not really similar. I find it's unusual in that it brings the violet leaf into the feminine territory (a traditionally masculine ingredient) and it's quite pleasant. I can't say I'm totally thrilled to the point of breaking into the nearest store and grabbing my very own bottle, but I can see it growing on me.


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