Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ivoire de Balmain (Vintage Formulation) Review

" Arg, that smell me?! Well, you look alright...maybe no one will notice you forgot to wash."

The first few minutes of Ivoire will have you wondering what the hell you just did to yourself, and questioning what sort of masochism compels you to keep doing it. Then, it settles down a bit, giving you time to grab the inhaler to deal with the perfume induced wheezing. Albuterol-an asthmatic perfume lover's best friend. So I'm fine(ish) and Ivoire is clearing out the aldehydes to drag me through a forest of oakmoss. I do love a good romp through the oakmoss. 

I haven't smelled Ivoire since the very early 80's, when as a favour to our next-door neighbour I house-sat so her estranged husband couldn't empty the house of belongings when she was at work. My neighbour wore Ivoire, and even with her gone the scent lingered in every room of the house. It was a large house, which leads me to think she must have worn it by the gallon. A little Ivoire goes a long way-no need to over-apply. 

Having such a strong association with my neighbour, I never found myself interested enough to wear Ivoire. In my mind, I associated it with a forty year old woman in the throes of a divorce-hardly the sort of thing I'd have been looking for in 1980. Besides, I'd often pick up the smell on my clothes just from spending time over there, and it lasted for days. The thing is, Ivoire smells so much better on a person than hanging in a room. It was only after wearing it myself that I understood I hadn't really experienced Ivoire. 

You know I love a good oakmoss perfume, and Ivoire has tonnes of it. To me, Ivoire is intensely green and herbal with only the slightest bit of sweetness from vanilla and tonka bean. That said, Ivoire doesn't feel sharp to me as some green perfumes can (Yendi, Ma Griffe, etc.). After the initial irritation, Ivoire becomes softer with iris dusting everything with the finest layer of expensive talc that mentally slides over your skin as though the world's largest, softest powder puff just shook out its contents like a windless snowfall. Cool, soft, powdery without too much sweetness-it is all so beautiful until the asafoetida shows up needing a shower. Whoa, someone hasn't washed her sister* in a very long time. Or is that the musk? Sometimes I can't tell. 

So we're all grown up here, and we can manage perfumes that smell like you've just had a vigourous roll in the hay (or the oakmoss), I have to say that I appreciate the unwashed notes a bit more in Ivoire than in the cumin/coriander based perfumes that really make you smell like an overdressed Victorian in the tropics. This seems like very refined stink, besides it isn't dominant and you only catch whiffs of it from time to time which helps to cut through some of the very clean and green notes. Marigold can be almost antiseptic unless it sits alongside something bodily. It is a difficult balance to get right, but when it works-as it does here, the results are so damn enjoyable. Yes, Ivoire gets off to a dramatic (and lung irritating) start, but if you can bear it (and catch your breath) the end result is a quite beautiful perfume.  

I get a very strong pepper note in Ivoire, but I'm sensitive to pepper and can tell if someone is shaking it on their food from a room away. It isn't my favourite note in perfumery, and I've smelled so much of it over the last decade in every imaginable form (pink, black, green, white) that it seems almost too common. In 1980, it would have been a strange note, particularly for something so green and chypre-ish. I like it here, which surprises me. 

If I had to find fault with Ivoire (which I'm finding difficult to do) it would be with the incense notes of patchouli and sandalwood. They don't play well with the cinnamon and nutmeg. I get an immediate psychedelic soundtrack going in my head that ruins any sophistication Ivoire spent so much time establishing." Shapes of things before my eyes..." or my nose, or whatever.  From a perfumery standpoint, I understand the reason so many perfumes rely on patchouli and sandalwood at the base...but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It isn't overwhelming here, though combined with cinnamon and nutmeg it always has the risk of straying into Tabu territory, which mercifully it does not. 

The truth? I still can't see myself wearing Ivoire. Yes, it is a beautiful green chypre, but there are many other beautiful green chypres in my collection that I prefer to Ivoire. When you're a perfume collector, there's only so many perfumes you can wear, and I tend to be selective. After 35 years, it still evokes my neighbour and her sad, angry divorce with me dragged in to guard the sterile, perfectly, professionally, decorated house and contents. Perfume has the ability to transport a person to all sorts of places-who the hell wants to go to Highland Park, Illinois in 1982? 

Reader Grayspoole has a review of Ivoire at Fragrantica that isn't laden with personal memories that might give you a better idea what you're in for with this scent HERE.  

So what's in this shit? 
Aldehydes, asthma oakmoss, chamomile, marigold, galbanum, orris, artemisia, vetiver, carnation, asafoetida, nutmeg, incense, sandalwood, narcissus, ylang ylang, Turkish rose, pepper, patchouli, jasmine, lily of the valley, bergamot, lemon, iris, labdanum, musk, violet, tonka, neroli, amber, cinnamon, vanilla, raspberry, Mandarin orange, and vanilla. 

Yeah, I know. Fortunately, you really only smell about half of it, and for the life of me I couldn't detect any raspberry or orange which can only be a good thing (they sound so terribly wrong here). 

Ivoire is a genuinely beautiful perfume in a style we don't smell much these days. It isn't dated, or old fashioned, but rather a bit out of favour. Even if you could make an exact chemical substitute for oakmoss (and some of them are really quite close) I'm not convinced it would have a market outside of a group of  perfume enthusiasts. As a niche perfume? Sure. For a mainstream 2016 perfume-buying public? Dunno. I haven't smelled the reformulated Ivoire, but I'm guessing it is better behaved and that the tonka, vanilla, and raspberry notes have been increased. That isn't a critique-people should wear what they enjoy, and today's perfume buyers aren't going to wait two hours for a scent to develop and change (or put up with a blast of Aldehydes by way of introduction). 

I'm not sure what I'll do with 1/4 ounce of this stuff, but I'm happy to have it as a reference in my perfume collection. Maybe I can find my old neighbour and see if she wants it though I'd guess she moved on from Ivoire the same way she moved on from her first husband. I wonder if she still has the big-screen TV and the Jaguar? 

*I worked with a woman with very little "filter" who was known to remark in a low voice, "I don't think she washes her sister" about another co-worker. 

This might be the first time I've written a glowing review of something I don't wish to wear, personally. I don't want to leave you with the idea that this is an inferior perfume, as it is not. If you like oakmoss, vetiver, and marigold this might be your new (old) favourite fragrance. Just remember- apply sparingly. 


Vronni's Style Meanderings said...

Again I've never heard of it let alone smelt it but you make me want to so much....Balmain should employ you as their PR woman!!

Is her'sister' a euphemism for what I think it is? If it is again it's a first for me and I think it's wonderful! In Devon, UK they refer to her 'flower' which I think its rather nice - and they refer to young girls and female children as 'maids'!!


Goody said...


Yep, that's what it means.

In the US, a "maid" means a char.

Goody said...

I really wish it wasn't so impossible to ship perfume to the UK because I'd be happy to share. Ah well, I suppose they have their reasons. It is easy enough to find though, and generally cheap.

Bibi Maizoon said...

Ivoire sounds way too complex, tasteful, & posh for me.
I'll stick to my loud white florals over a clean white musk with just a pinch of something spicy. Unwashed sister or not I can provide my own skank in my stank.
I do have a hat like that though.
Kind of reminds me of the first time I smelled Chanel No 5. I was 16 & was really becoming interested in perfume, Coco Chanel, Marilyn Monroe, & such. My first impression of Cn5 after the aldehydic blast was: this smells like Bibi's unwashed armpit after she's participated in a 4 hr soccer game on a very hot day and hopped into her 65 Mustang with it's fickle AC and searing vinyl seats and sat in SF Bay area traffic for 3 hrs before hitting the shower. (AKA that "not so fresh feeling.") Coco Chanel said she wanted to make a perfume that smelled "like a woman" rather than flowers, and Bibi definitely agreed that ol' Coco accomplished that!

Mim said...

I don't think it's really old, but my bottle of Ivoire is definitely 90s, and just smells soapy on me. I wear it on days when I want something clean! Maybe it's my European nose, but very few scents smell dirty to me - the only two that really make the grade on that front are Shocking (of course) and Frederic Mall Noir Epices, which literally turned faecal on me, and I have no idea why. Never had it happen with any other perfume but that one just turned straight to Eau de Buttcrack on my skin.

Goody said...

#5 is one of those perfumes where the jasmine turns off my nose and I don't get anything. I always wondered what it smelled like!

Oh yeah, Shocking earned the name, didn't it?
Catalyst smells horrible on me-like something rotting. Don't know that Malle, but thanks for the warning! Thus far I haven't been impressed by the line (or the prices).