Let me tell you about Germaine Cellier, the perfumer.
In the 1930s, perfumery was a male dominated industry with big houses like Houbigant and Coty run by big name, super-star male perfumers. Then along comes Germaine Cellier, a woman who smoked like a chimney and ate garlic for dinner before composing her masterworks (uh, this is a huge no-no amongst most perfumers, especially the smoking part).
Not only was Germaine Cellier a woman in a man’s world, she was also most likely an out lesbian. There’s a lot of anecdotes that imply that she was, but my favorite classic story about Cellier is how she asked models just off the runway for their knickers so she could get an idea of what femininity smelled like (which you have to admit is a pretty sweet way to pick up models). Cellier made (what she apparently called a ‘femme’ scent) the tuberose perfume to end all tuberoses, Fracas and promised to release a ‘butch’ scent (which she later did) the above Bandit. Fracas is like Marilyn Monroe in a bottle, buxomy and feminine and sex kittenish, while Bandit is Marlene Dietrich in a bottle, angular, smoky-voiced, androgynous. Edith Piaf was a Bandit wearer. Fracas is my lush summer white floral (the vintage eau de toilette has a beautiful oak mossy depth), while Bandit is the greenest perfume I’ve ever tried (think deep dark bitter almost smoky green).
But above all this awesomeness, I love Germaine Cellier because she was a fucking rad perfumer. In the early years of perfumery, houses put out perfume ‘bases’, which were like premixed scent notes or perfume foundations. Perfumes could be made inexpensively with bases, without a lot of creative direction needed. A lot of houses still have their own in-house base that features in a lot of their perfumes (Guerlain has their Guerlinade. Caron has their Mousse de Saxe and Lauder has their Lauder-base). But in Cellier’s time, it was seen as a bit bourgeois to mix perfumes from bases.
Yet, Cellier used bases lavishly and unapologetically, earning a lot of smug derision from her colleagues. In the end though, her perfumes were stunning and wildly popular. And the best thing is, people have NO IDEA how to recreate her work exactly as it was. Because her perfume formulas aren’t just lists of aromachemicals and notes, they’re lists of BASES. Bases that don’t even exist anymore! Bases that have no lasting formulas! Bases that everyone scoffed at and are now dying to recreate.
I don’t know, I thought you might get a kick out of her.