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.

Bardot in a bikini posing at south of France in 1953 via wikimedia commons

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 photographed in 2002 via wikimedia commons

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.
 


The online information circulating about Bardot mentions three fragrances in particular, Vent Vert The Original by Pierre Balmain, Jicky by Guerlain, and allegedly Shalimar by Guerlain as well.

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 of Jicky edt with sprig of lavender by Perlemutt on Fragrantica.ru

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).

collage of Shalimar perfume ads with women touching perfume stopper on their skin

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.

Bardot in Et Dieu Crea la Femme french film by Vadim

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.

Bardot in diaphanous bodysuit, hair down, photo shot in 1968 via wikimedia commons

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.

Shalimar bottle in repeated copies in perspective

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.
 

original lyrics in song Les Initials BB by Gainsbourg
pic via


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.

 

Author

Elena Vosnaki

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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News Comments

Write your comment
jeca
Rose Alexandrie

jeca

BB is amazing at any age. And she is a strong woman indeed. You can agree or disagree with her views, but at least she can say what she thinks. Many people can’t.
Elena Vosnaki
Ruby Staple

Elena Vosnaki

Worth noting: I'm actually questioning WHETHER she's a delusional old timer, not proclaiming that she is. :)
That accusation is part of how some people perceive her, part of her persona, which I'm examining here. (i.e. couldn't ignore the elephant in the room)
Latitude-29

Latitude-29

@senorlancetti

I quite disagree.

With the world going to hell in a handbasket, fragrance is the disengaged escape I personally enjoy. And I bet many here too agree.

I'll borrow from fellow Fragrantican; 'UnearthlyApothecary'; & not intending to plagiarize, mirror by paraphrasing them: **'I don't want my perfume to be overly socially engaged. This might sound selfish. But my sense of smell & my perfume collection, is the one part of my life where I am totally selfish"**

I couldn't agree more.

Personally I find piss-elegance can be a soul saving therapy, as long as it's not taken seriously; but always done well.

Mystique, hyperbole, 'camp'-publicity & vicarious fantasy can all be part of 'doing IT well'.
If fragrance is spun into same....well what a wonderful conduit, elixir, & 'spin'.... Splash it into the manifest.

And spinning Ms Bardot....why not?

Publicity balm, canvas for escapist fantasy & paparazzi-electromagnet. Deliciously politically incorrect & opinionated too,.....brings us back to a time where it was OK to admire a woman's tits! Hey relax! She wasn't a political leader or head of state for eff's sake.

I for one feel, that in diametric opposition to your comment: "in probably less than a year here perfume will be the furthest thing from your mind"

........................In less than a year, I'm gonna want to escape into fragrance even further & more frequently!

Even more so on my mind.
ihughes123
Estee

ihughes123

Fascinating. I love hearing about fragrances adored by vintage actors. I had heard that BB was a big fan of Canoe by Dana too. I love to imagine classic stars wearing vintage fragrances. It adds another layer of mystique and intrigue for me. Thank you, Elena. This article could make a great series. 🤞
arteditors

arteditors

wow Elena, love the fact you stayed with facts. it is a well known 'secret' that many (film) stars revered their Guerlains. Minf you, Jicky is not that innocent and I am sure you know it, it has animalic facets and I can well see BB wearing it with pride.
Señorlancetti
Patchouli

Señorlancetti

My God I love this website so much! It’s beyond hilarious reading people bicker over opinions on how an article doesn’t agree with them when there’s far more important things in this current world to worry about like how we need FAKE BULLSHIT VACCINE PASSPORTS TO GO ABOUT OUR DAILY LIVES… in probably less than a year here perfume will be the furthest thing from your mind.
latafan
Iris Violet

latafan

I really need to control myself and stop scrolling to the comments after every thoroughly interesting article.
Fragaria
Love's Baby Soft

Fragaria

I absolutely adore Brigitte Bardot. I admire her for gracefully aging without cosmetic procedures. She's nearing 90 and simply lovely to me.
Zaleska

Zaleska

Meh. Holding grudges against articles written years ago? Sounds mature to me.
SadieBluesLady
L'Air de Rien

SadieBluesLady

People, please save your petty political squabbles for other venues. Frankly it gets in the way of an interesting article on perfume marketing and the quick spread of misinformation as "truth". As for Ms Bardot and her polemic public statements and the subsequent lawsuits . . . it cannot hold a candle to the outright lies told by my most recent national leader. Ce n’est pas la mer à boire
OTA Mom
Cereus No.3

OTA Mom

Quite disrespectful and unnecessary. Recent Fragrantica articles in general have been quite good lately, but this one lowers the bar.
DarlingNikki

DarlingNikki

Some of these comments are stunningly impolite yet not unexpected. I have no views of Ms. Bardot in either a good or bad direction as she is not someone who has ever been on my radar but to call her ugly even in her prime...yeesh. I guess the person who said that looks like a veritable masterpiece--perhaps as imagined by Picasso based on the comment lol. External beauty is subjective to cultural norms and expectations, but kindness and tact are truly priceless. It's awe-inspiring when they go hand-in-hand, but the rarity of that is plainly evident.
Alces Alces
Jicky

Alces Alces

What evidence is there for her being delusional? Pretty intolerant thing to say. But that's classic Alinsky: ad hominem mudslinging on anyone with a divergent viewpoint... I don't know why I even clicked on this because I knew there would be something mean, comme toujours.
LSAUG
Fresh Morning

LSAUG

You didn't have to call her a delusional old timer. Very low blow. But of course when you don't agree w/ someone's politics any name calling or attack is allowed.
Alex1984
Rive Gauche

Alex1984

Love this!!!!

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