Guest post by Megan Volpert
In Atlanta, where I live, there were already a handful of 70-degree days during the first week of March. Whatever project I’m immersed in when Women’s History Month arrives tends to inform this annual time of reflection on the themes of my people, so the recent launch of the Perfume book has got me thinking about Germaine Cellier.
She was born in March of 1909. Although not the first female perfumer during the ‘40s and ‘50s when the fragrance industry was dominated almost entirely by men, with just four juices she nevertheless cemented her status as most iconic: Bandit and Fracas for Robert Piguet, Vent Vert and Jolie Madame for Pierre Balmain. These brash and stunning works of art elementally convey the fierce character of the woman who created them. They are loud and unapologetic turners of heads, pushers of the envelop. The revolutionary mic drop across Cellier’s oeuvre that still boggles the marketplace almost nine decades later: a woman can wear a green perfume. Cellier was proto-punk when Patti Smith was literally still in diapers.
The other reason I love March is that as soon as the weather has been warm for a week, I switch out my “warm” scent library for my “cool” one. All the cozy cashmere sweater vibes of vanilla and spiced oud are folded away to make room for breezy vegetals and lush florals. This includes my bottle of Cellier’s Bandit, which urban legend whispers she explicitly made with gender non-conforming lesbians like me in mind. It also includes all the other verdant scents that Cellier’s work gave me permission to love and confidence to wear: Vetiver Extreme by Guerlain, No. 19 by Chanel, Agua Brava by Antonio Puig, Aspen by Coty, et cetera. Watch as my adorable little niece bouncing on my knee pauses to shout into my face, “you smell like a boy!”
There will be plenty of opportunities to teach her how gender is a highly fragrant social construct, perhaps as soon as she’s old enough to have an allowance, so I played it cool and just laughed. Just as I have all year round to be riled up with dissatisfaction about the status of women with regard to almost any aspect of global life, I prefer to use Women’s History Month to remind myself of how far we’ve come. I roll out my green monster perfumes and broadcast Cellier’s wild bravery to any nose willing to keep an open mind. Her personal coolness and the coolness of these perfumes inspires me enormously, brings me back to a state of balance within myself as I lend whatever creative gifts I have to our common cause.
It’s my biggest hope for the Perfume book, which launched two days before what would have been Cellier’s 113th birthday, that readers will use it to learn how to explore the horizon opening out onto their own most fragrant practices of daily living. I wish all of you a happy Women’s History Month and a very cool spring.
Megan Volpert is a frequent contributor to PopMatters and a professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Kennesaw State University, USA. She has written or edited over dozen books, including Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (2020), RuPaul’s Drag Race and Philosophy (2019), and Boss Broad (2019).