Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Balenciaga Cialenga: fragrance review & history

Some women float over the floor rather than walk on it. There's a sweeping elegance and drama about them that you almost think all motion stops when they pass under the doorframe. Cialenga by Balenciaga is like that: Classically beautiful, aloofly superior, it's arresting and mysterious, but never going for outright wiles of seduction. This isn't a hearty blonde to laught out loud at your joke, but an icy cool Hitchockian heroine. Possibly with thick arched brows and a grey suit, besides a shady past, to show. Don't let the smile fool you...

Cialenga was launched by Balenciaga in 1973, composed by perfumer Jacques Jantzen. The name is rather cryptic; his only other known credential is collaboration on another Balenciaga perfume, Ho Hang for men (1971). But his history spans decades of shrouded work: His is Helena Rubinstein's 1946 Command Performance. 
The green chypres with floral hearts signified a more assertive and sophisticated angularity than the curvier lactonic florals of the 1950s and early 1960s and ushered in the new woman, the one who worked, took the pill and wore the pants. The dry, somewhat acrid quality of this genre is expressed in a dark manner in Cialenga, manifesting itself as among the more noir of the lot with a balance of green, spice and wood, just like a well judged cocktail of Martini wits, kinky sex references and sharply-cut tailleurs.

Comparison with Other Fragrances & Scent Description
The most apt comparison of Cialenga with any well-known perfume would be with vintage No.19 by Chanel. The way No.19 used to be, before being somewhat declawed. In Cialenga the green harmony is more aldehydic (recalling that segment from Paco Rabanne's Calandre) and soapy, while the overall character is decidely mustier than the Chanel and with quite a bit of spice added (clove and coriander prominently to my nose). The jasmine takes on a nuance between creamy and soapy, with no sugar floralcy as in more familiar sketches of floral chypres; the aldehydes do not take center stage.
The angularity of the green notes recalls the top note of Vent Vert in the vintage parfum (so full of galbanum), while the spicy warmth with an added myrrh tonality is all dark corners of a Spanish monastery in the New World and dangerous brunettes turned blondes with a death wish.

The familiar sophisticated refinement of Balenciaga perfumes (I'm referring to the vintages, though the modern Balenciaga Paris and L'Essence aren't half bad) is there all right in Cialenga. Think of Michelle, that ultra aloof tuberose parfum by the same Spanish designer or La Fuite des Heures! Being highly in tune with its times, Cialenga vaguely recalls other fragrances in the genre of a similar retro time-frame: Y by Yves Saint Laurent, Coriandre by Jean Couturier, the first Jean Louis Scherrer. The citrusy and black-currant segment might even recall the refreshing facets of Amazone.


A little goes a long way and it's trailing at least down the elevator doors, so a small quantity should last you a long time; good thing, as Cialegna, like all vintage Balenciaga perfumes, is discontinued and nowadays quite rare.  Few specimens crop up on ebay from time to time.

Notes for Balenciaga Cialenga:
Top: citrus, black currant,green notes
Heart: iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, clove, tincture of rose and lily
Base: vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss and Virginia cedar.

photo still of Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo via the ace black blog 

This review is dedicated to Armani/Michael who introduced me to this fragrance and who had a thing for Kim Novak's brows in Vertigo :-)


  1. Oh. I have a huge bottle somewhere. Maybe it's time to unpack it.

  2. Eliam17:22

    I've been meaning to order a few Balenciaga vintage samples as I've only been able to experience Le Dix. I have a dear friend that loves it since her grandmother would always wear it. Cialenga sounds beautiful. It will definitely be in my list of try outs.

  3. L,

    it's high time. Life's too short and really good, distinctive fragrances too scarce.

  4. All Balenciaga perfumes are good stuff. You shouldn't regret it. They're highly individual, so it's worth sampling. But they're quality stuff and sophisticated, non generic.
    Le Dix is especially elegant with its violet tinge.

    Have fun exploring!

  5. sounds like something I'd love and wear, since I love and wear Chanel 19, Calandre and Scherrer.

  6. MJ,

    it's definitely wonderful and worth sampling if you get a chance (rare bird that it is).
    I think it's closest to old No.19 edp.

  7. Elena, next summer, I'm summoning architects to do things. I live among boxes of stuff over boxes of stuff. One of the tasks will be to invent some storage furniture for my perfumes - I don't need to display them in the open but the current state when they're piled in random places and I keep forgetting what is where just sucks.

    I have many a treasure somewhere behind dictionaries, in shoe boxes where summer shoes sleep these days and in other random spaces....

  8. Oh, and Fuite des Heures is Balenciaga, not Balmain. I'm getting these two mixed up all the time. I got it as well, a sealed bottle even. Can't open it for heaven's sake.

  9. L,

    ah...decluttering, what sweet music this words plays to my ears! I have vowed to make 2012 the year of paring down, decluterring. I have too much stuff to enjoy properly.
    I applaud your organised plan to do this properly. A ta sante!

  10. L,

    have you tried the microwaved napkin on the neck of the bottle option or the fridge-and-then-let-warm methods?

  11. I was too excited to comment when I read this yesterday. Cialenga. I tried to get some more about five years ago, well, actually before the internet- what's that, the '90's. I know I wasn't at this address, or on this couch. I phoned, and they only had a partial bottle left. He said he couldn't get anymore. That is why I remember the details. I was traumatised.
    I saw you post and thought, just maybe...Why on New Years I almost wore my Cialenga earrings. Bet you never heard of those, did you? Found them about 15 years ago, miniature bottles in plastic. Also got some MaGriffe earrings, and some that look like Mitsoukuo. It was probably a one off. Then I read your blog more sedately, and found that it has truly been discontinued. I have some Le Dix, too. A local drug store closed down about 18 years ago and I went in and got 8 bottles of Calandre, and many others. I split the Calandre with a certain sister. Last year I was at her house, and she pulled an unopened box out and said: Nah nah, na na na. Well, I very cruelly said I had held back a bottle of her Fendi, still in its wrapper, and I would toss it in the street if she didn't give me that Calandre. She followed me home and we swapped at the front door.

    What is my profile, I don't know. The first perfume I ever bought when I was 17, was Bellogia, by Caron. It has my heart. Was able to get a single bottle last Christmas. I have lost my sense of smell, and have to stick with what I know and love.

  12. Nadine,

    it's certainly all right to come back and comment any time you feel like it!

    Nice story with a moral in there too! ;-) You're quite wise to stockpile what you like. It proved to be the right move.
    I'm sorry about the anosmia, is it a total shut down? Or are there some smells you can still smell? (Sorry if sounding obtuse, here)


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