Brigitte Bardot and Her Perfumes: Truth in Reporting
1001 Past Tales
Few women in the spotlight have garnered such a frenzied interest from the public as legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot. Her heyday in the 1950s and 1960s has forever cemented her image as a sex-pot, part of the sexual revolution, and eternal object of lust, forever young, even though she was born in 1934, making her the grandmother and great-grandmother of contemporary audiences. Peter Evans, in his book Bardot, Eternal Sex Goddess, catches the mystique of her persona. Although the USA equivalent (in some ways, though, not all) Marilyn Monroe cemented her eternal glamour via departing this vain world very young indeed, Bardot also left us too soon. Her withdrawal to her own ascetic villa, La Madrague, in the south of France, when she abandoned cinema and men in favor of animal rescue, and her dubious political views in later years, conflating patriotism with the far right, have created even more of a fracas over her perceived image.
Who and what is she, in the end? Marianne, the embodiment of French democracy for the bust of whom she posed? A really wild child, coming straight from the bourgeoisie, initially coaxed to become a ballerina? Roger Vadim's creation, who acted as a Pygmalion to her Galateia? The most famous patron of St.Tropez and the saint of its tourism industry? The trendsetter of the bikini, the boat neckline on feminine blouses, and the Bardot pose (dressed in only pantyhose, legs crossed in front of her, arms crossed over her breasts)? A fervent activist of animal rights? Or a delusional old-timer who sees time pass her by? Maybe there's a bit of all these things in her mysterious persona, her lined and jowled face a poignant reminder in our Instagrammable age that time takes its toll for everyone, no matter what.
Bardot is rather respected for allowing time to etch itself on her marvelous face, especially compared to that other diurnal antagonist, actress Catherine Deneuve, her icy antithesis. And although we know quite a lot about Deneuve's favorite fragrances, as she's a self-confessed perfumephile like the rest of us, writing the intro to F.Malle's book on the creative process of his eponymous line, we know precious little about Bardot's collection. Nevertheless, with her intense influence on Anglosaxon culture, with several US and UK pop icons adoring her and referencing her through the decades, she serves as a reference for fragrances not even associated with her. Case in point? Dior's Addict lighter flankers, with model Daphne Groeneveld posing as a contemporary, playful sex kitten, a child-woman, like Brigitte herself back in the day.
There is concrete evidence for the first two, but not the third. Pierre Balmain was the designer in And God Created...Woman, the Vadim film which made Bardot famous all over the world, so the supply of his 1947 fragrance, Vent Vert, is far from illogical (Judy Garland was also a fan, as recounted in Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland by authors Sid Luft, Randy L. Schmidt 2017.) It's in any case referenced in Perfumes que não saem de moda by author Márcia de Oliveira Estrázul.
bottle photo by Perlemutt on Fragrantica.ru
The association with Jicky is confirmed by the company itself, and there is the additional tidbit that her longstanding photographer friend was Ghislain (nicknamed Jicky) Dussart... The above-mentioned Peter Evans book quotes, "She was enchanting ... Brigitte is not a heavy user of scent; for a long time she favoured Jicky by Guerlain, a subtle girlish scent touched with bergamot and lavender and a hint of Provencal herbs." The 106th issue of Mademoiselle also cites Jicky as her scent of choice, claiming, "You might suppose this kitten would wear overtly bedroomy perfume, but she throws her lovers for a loop with Guerlain Jicky, a citrus fragrance men wore at the turn of the century. Sheer genius." The periodical L'Art et la Mode issue 2834 (1966) also mentions, "Brigitte Bardot a, sans doute, renouvelé sa provision de Jicky chez Guerlain; vous savez qu'avant de partir pour les États-Unis , elle en avait fait une ample provision." (i.e., Brigitte Bardot has undoubtedly repurchased Jicky at the Guerlain boutique, you know how she had restocked it before leaving for the USA).
All that being said; personally, I'm seriously doubtful of the Shalimar connection, and indeed the references I found seem sketchy. Let me explain.
First of all, there is a distinct difference in the style of Vent Vert with Guerlain's seductive classic of classics conceived in the 1920s. Much like Mademoiselle claims above, it seems that Bardot's style of unbridled sexuality is not as studied and copiously detailed as Monroe's. There is an overt freedom about her sense of sensuality, expressed in her roles in films; she's often depicted in the wild, in nature, at the beach, or sunbathing, from And God Created...Woman, to Le Mepris ('Contempt,' Jean Luc Goodard, the highlight of her career). She's more inclined to be consummating a love affair on the beach than in a glamorous bedroom with velvet throws and silk sheets. There is a hippyish "make love, not war" vibe, especially in her 1960s persona.
Jicky is also quite unlike Shalimar, despite the perpetuated myth of Jacques Guerlain tipping lots of vanillin into a bottle of Jicky to see what would happen. Great perfumes don't happen by happenstance. Jicky is timeless in the most conceptual sense of the word, what NASA might project to the great unknown because it's so abstract and non-categorized. Is it a proto-fougere? A proto-oriental? An aromatic and coumarinic citrus? A bit of all these things? It's also eminently unisex, perfect for her self-proclaimed entourage of gay men.
Her own personal perfume, which she had commissioned to manufacture and launch under the name of her favorite home, La Madrague, is also in this style; green, acid, piercingly fresh. Nothing to do with Shalimar and warm-ambery fragrance seduction. But additionally, the image of the liberated, almost hippie, 1960's contemporary sexuality of Bardot does not compute with a perfume that was worn by the flappers, that is, the generation of... her mother. As I have commented before, for a perfume to be desired as a new generation's elixir of seduction, it must be cut off from memories of mothers and grandmothers. Especially when a perfume has an erotic load. In the throes of passion, one does not want to risk reminding one's partner of the scent... of their mother.
I did a little "research" on the Net to see where this information came from originally. After all, it is quite common in today's lazy journalism to circulate misinformation and then witness it be copied by everyone to the point that it now becomes... a fact. I assumed something like this had happened, and I believe I was proven right. So here it is.
Initially, there is the following presumption that complicates things. A recent Shalimar commercial by Guerlain from 2009, starring Natalia Vodanova, is musically scored to Serge Gainsbourg's song "Les Initials BB," which of course refers to Brigitte Bardot. (Gainsbourg had been her lover, for those who may not know, with the original Je t'aime... moi non plus song being recorded originally with Bardot, instead of Jane Birkin).
In it, Vodianova seemingly writhes and turns on an unmade bed, applying drops of perfume with the stopper of Guerlain's famous Shalimar bottle. Her movements, as well as the stylization of the cinematography, reference the infamous bed scene from Le Mepris. There, Bardot is questioning her lover on her body attributes and how much he loves them, one by one. (Chanel also borrowed this cinematic reference, much more overtly, for their Rouge Allure lipstick commercial campaign in recent years. The Bardot legend is alive and well.)
Gainsbourg is quite deservedly a national treasure for the French, and he ignites an almost Pavlovian reflex of eroticism (like BB herself), so Guerlain was telling us in that ad, "here, you too can be as erotically irresistible while wearing Shalimar!"
Even the Telegraph reported in 2011 on the song writer's "return" to perfume adverts, even though he had passed away in 1991, dedicating an article to the musical inspiration behind the commercial.
Here is the original song, Les Initials BB.
In other words, I believe that because the song mentions the lyrics "she wears nothing but a few drops of Guerlain perfume in her hair" (an equivalent of the Monroe quip for Chanel No.5 at bedtime) and because these exact Gainsbourg lyrics referring to Bardot were used in the Shalimar ad back in 2009, they have "stuck" in the collective unconscious, and Bardot has since been thought to have worn Shalimar, despite lack of historical evidence.
I then stumbled onto an article coming from Into the Gloss from 2015 (accessed here), which turns up first when Googling "Bardot-Shalimar," which references the supposed favorite perfumes of a handful of celebrities, based on their vanity table perfume bottles. It is there that the misleading information about Shalimar generated and then spread like wildfire. Nevertheless, there is no actual photo of Bardot's vanity in the Gallery of the article, and the reference by the journalist is that there is an "umbrella-style" Guerlain bottle on Bardot's vanity; what's more, it's mentioned as being an Eau de Cologne concentration.
There are several mistakes in that claim. First of all, the umbrella style bottle was characteristic for Guerlain for the 1950s and 1960s, as attested by the Pochet et du Courval prototype glass design archives, and it effectively circulated in all commercial fragrances by Guerlain. So it might just as well be Jicky in the first place.
The other major misinformation derives from the fact that the "umbrella style Guerlain bottles" contained only Extrait de Parfum, pure perfume that is not Eau de Cologne, the latter being an everyday dilution with more effervescent top notes for added sparkle.
There are a few more mistakes in the Into the Gloss article, and the author is being corrected in the comments section by a reader (another perfumephile and part of our online community. :) I was wondering whether the article author based her facts on any prior information I was not privy too, but the only previous online information comes from a cursory article from the Independent in 2011, promoting the then-new, and now discontinued, Shalimar Parfum Initial.
It would have been so easy, commercially viable, and influential to claim that Bardot, the "eternal sex goddess," wore Shalimar. However, not even Sylvaine Delacourte, director at Parfums Guerlain for ages, did mention her among the famous wearers of the classic scent, although it would have been in her interest to be able to do so. Therefore, I'm staying with my theory till further proof. Journalism is not impeccable, nor is everything on the Net to be taken as gospel.
Elena Vosnaki Editor, Writer & Translator
Elena Vosnaki is a historian, archaeologist and fragrance author. She has written for Fragrantica since 2009. Vosnaki has worked as the Perfume History Curator for the Milan EXPO 2015, and as a guest lecturer at the Athens School of Fine Arts. She is the founder & editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on scent. Her writing has been twice shortlisted in FIFI Editorial Excellence Awards and is extensively quoted by authors. Interviews regarding Vosnaki's unique status as perfume historian & writer appear in VOGUE Hellas, ICON Magazine and Queen.gr.
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