Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Because few perfumes are made like this anymore, wearing Vert pour Madame is an exercise in nostalgia, capturing an era when stepping into the role of a woman was a stylish move for many a girl, and capturing, too, the newness and excitement attendant with that move. Its sense of worldly intoxication is not something we have to lose as we age. Just as its name reads like the title on a gift card, Vert pour Madame reminds me that, while it would make a perfect gift for a young woman striking out on her own—a scent to mark her arrival—it’s a gift of green for the woman of any age who believes in the ritual of renewal.

“You were a lady there,” says former Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith, who as a teenager in 1965 arrived at the Barbizon from Texas to study ballet. Inside she befriended model Dayle Haddon, who would become the face of L’Oréal, and Margo Sappington, later a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet and choreographer of the infamous nude musical Oh! Calcutta! “This was another time and place,” Smith insists. “I really dressed up: hose, heels. I don’t know how I walked. I looked like I was going to church every day.”

It opened in 1927, hoping to attract the single, stylish, and thoroughly modern Millies pouring into New York during the Jazz Age to chase their dreams: stardom, independence, a husband. Prospective tenants were required to bring three good references for admission, and were graded on criteria such as looks, dress, and demeanor. From the beginning, the Barbizon existed as a combined charm school and dormitory, one where fretting parents could be confident their girls would be kept safe—and chaste. No men were allowed above the lobby without strict supervision, and parents could require their resident daughters to sign in and out at the front desk. Some were even given their own chaperones. Girls who came in late or, in the parlance of one staff matron, “in bad shape” were spoken to. According to a writer for Time magazine, it was “one of the few places in Gomorrah-on-the-Hudson where a girl could take her virtue to bed and rest assured it would still be there next morning.” What’s more, the building possessed “the greatest concentration of beauty east of Hollywood.”

In addition to hyacinth, jonquil, lily-of-the-valley, cedar, patchouli and moss, the fragrance notes for DSH Vert pour Madame include aldehydes, bergamot, cassis bud, galbanum, peach, rose, neroli, orris, jasmine, violet leaf, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, ciste, civet, musk and tonka bean.

Vert pour Madame is from the Colorado-based perfume house of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and can be purchased at her store in Boulder, CO, or from her website, where a 10-ml bottle of the eau de parfum is $54; a 1-oz bottle is $110, and a ½-oz bottle of the perfume in extract concentration is $198 (pictured above) .My review is based on a sample of the eau de parfum sent to me by the exquisite Undina!

Credits: excerpted text is from the article "Sorority on E. 63rd St." by Michael Callahan, which first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Vanity Fair magazine

Photo (top of page) of Barbizon Hotel front stolen from the blog Daytonian in Manhattan; photo of Manhattan viewed from the Barbizon is from untappedcities.com; Grace Kelly pic is from datalounge.com; and lastly, the bottle image of Vert pour Madame (in the "antique presentation" bottle of the extract) is from the perfumer's website.

There’s a full list of fragrance notes in Vert pour Madame that I’ll reference at the end of my review, but also a core list that perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz identifies, comprised of hyacinth, jonquil, lily of the valley, cedar, patchouli and moss. In addition to these, the greenery of galbanum and a gentle sprinkle of aldehydes are defining elements of this chypre perfume that, to my mind, smells as if it sits at the intersection of two other great chypres: Coty Chypre in its last incarnation (before it was discontinued), with its meadow-like smell, and the more haughty and cosmetic Jean Patou 1000. Though there is a definite richness to its composition, Vert pour Madame’s combination of effervescent aldehydes, spring-like greenery, honeyed jonquil, and sly lily-of-the-valley have an energetic air of youth about them, and they collide immediately with this perfume’s other defining accords: the deep thrum of this perfume’s classical floral heart (the opulent bouquet that is the recognizable element of classic French perfumery) and the astringent base of deeper green that adds some necessary sharpness to the florals. To my nose, this perfume doesn’t unfold on the skin in stages, but neither is it linear. This composition operates like an opal: there’s a steadfastness about it while, at the same time, it’s throwing off iridescent sparks that highlight the colors of the perfume, accentuating the greenness of it in one second, its golden jasmine-rosy hue the next, while at the same time there is a frosty whiteness that bounces off these other smells, keeping the overall composition cool and trim and just a little bit aloof.

But getting back to my original analogy . . . .

April 9, 2016:

The above quote about the once-famous Barbizon Hotel is from an article from Vanity Fair magazine (April 2010). I read it years ago and something about it stayed with me to the degree that, in casting about for ways to describe the perfume I’ve been sampling, it forced me to the magazine’s online archives to locate it. DSH Perfumes Vert Pour Madame is a sophisticated perfume, very vintage-inspired, and if I owned a bottle, I’d wear its green-floral mantle of beauty on my skin often. It’s a great perfume to behold in the dead of winter when one is longing for spring, which Vert pour Madame certainly possesses, though it’s only part of the olfactory picture. True, la primavera resides here, couched in a rich setting that makes one realize that this perfume is a portrait, not of bucolic pleasures, but of worldly ones. In particular, it is a portrait of uncommon feminine beauty—thus the connection to the Barbizon article; thus the reason why perfume reviewers often look to books, movies and other places of fantasy to describe perfumes. If I told you that the elegant richness of this perfume had me labeling it as a “me” fragrance, that would be true, but you might wonder what kind of ego trip I’m on. This is a perfume I would feel disingenuous in describing if I couldn’t pin it on something outside my life. Smelling Vert pour Madame in the dead of winter, in the cruel grip of middle age, and in the rural backwoods of America is a transcendent experience, but one that cautions a serious writer from issuing “me” statements about it.

Still, when a perfume elicits a deep emotional response, that’s something worth mentioning. Smelling Vert Pour Madame is profoundly similar to my experience of smelling Guerlain Chamade extrait for the first time. Its fizzy greens and daffodil yellows, attached to a luxe foundation, inspire thoughts of beauty that go beyond the physical—that speak of a certain lifestyle—such that one of the first things I thought upon sampling it was, Can I reinvent myself? Regardless the answer, the question is essential to the description of this perfume and what led me to retrieve the Barbizon article. Because, while there is definitely an air of ‘madame’ in Vert pour Madame, there is something eternally youthful within this perfume: I smell the ingénue—the sophisticated yet fresh-faced mademoiselle who is at the most exciting period of time in her life, when she is stepping into the role of Madame. For me, this scent evokes a rite of passage.

Think about the Barbizon debutante who grew up in an innocent part of the country—a little town in the Midwest or the south, or, in the case of one of its most favorite residents, Grace Kelly, perhaps a working-class city like Philadelphia—who is now installed at one of the chicest addresses in the Big Apple. Translate that idea into fragrance and you’ll get the idea of how Vert pour Madame smells to me: this perfume is as much about yearning excitement as it is about glamour. It is both of these things in equal measure. “Springtime in Paris” is the song on its lips as it goes window-shopping on Lexington Avenue. With its heart of thick florals that are perfumey and remind one of expensive things, of privilege; with its oily tang of jasmine and fine dusting of cosmetic powder that remind one of maturity; and with its violet leaf and moss base that are just frosty enough to speak of hauteur, Vert pour Madame has all the hallmarks of a womanly perfume. Yet the uplifting greenery and more delicate florals that dance with the aldehydes in a higher register—lending an air of delight—prove that this madame hasn’t become old and jaded. And because I don’t detect much in the way of animalic notes (even though the composition includes some), neither is this a “coo-coo-ca-choo Mrs. Robinson” kind of madame.

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DSH Perfumes Vert pour Madame:
A Concentration of Beauty, Excitement and Glamour