Balmain de Balmain, 1998

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(image, little black dress)

Perfumer Antoine de Maisondieu

Balmain de Balmain is best viewed as a part of the Balmain lineage rather than as a part of the trends of its time, the late ’90s-early 00s. Perfumery and its audience were still wrestling with the extremes, unable to find a balance. On on end, the ’80s power fragrances, notoriously large and tiresome, gave rise to the ’90 gourmand perfumes, which took ethylmaltol as a cue to go from loud to shrieking. At the other end sepia fragrances of the early nineties, in their search for penance for the cocaine-style perfumes of the 1980s, reconceptualized water and air as scents.

Balmain de Balmain makes little sense among its cohorts. But it takes its place in the Balmain line easily, matching up logically with its prececessors: Vent Vert (brisk and crisp), Jolie Madame (sharp and pitchy), Ivoire (another perfume out of step, out of time.)

The chypre genre is a large and unhurried one. Balmain de Balmain isn’t earthshaking. It’s hardly even novel, but it is a very good perfume and has all the attributes of a chypre: evolution, complexity and the feeling of engaged poise.

We chypre fans love to split hairs in sub-categorizing chypres and I’d call Balmain de Balmain a floral chypre. A heavy hand with blackcurrant can tip a perfume back and forth between piquant and pissy. Balmain de Balmain steers clear and has a long arc from starchy, stem-snapping coolness to a mossy/ambery finish over a period of 10-12 hours.

1998 was actually an interesting year in mainstream perfumery. It produces a number of perfumes that stood apart from the 80s-90s dilemma I mentioned above (Bvlgari Black, Feu d’Issey, Kenzo Jungle, Guerlain Coriolan, Cartier Declaration) and heralded some solutions on the horizon. Balmain ran head-first into the chypre genre and comes out with a gorgeous little black dress of a perfume. A smart choice any year.



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