Quadrille by Balenciaga (1955) {Perfume Review & Musings}

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Quadrille
is a perfume from the 1950s. More precisely, it was introduced in 1955. It came after Le Dix (1947) and La Fuite des Heures (1949.) The date appears little relevant in this case because I think that its creator was more interested in expressing atemporal qualities such as natural elegance, refinement and I would even say more unexpectedly, courage. A recent fragrance like Agent Provocateur connotes much more of the 1950s period to me.

What I particularly appreciate about this perfume is that despite it being marketed towards women, it successfully avoids the pitfall of encoding or stereotyping womanhood into a perfume.

The fragrance is very well balanced including both traditional feminine and masculine aromatic codes. Thus, it is a mix of dryness and sweetness, of spiciness, frutiness and floralcy, of austerity and sensuality.

I could perfectly see a man wearing this perfume; he would only need to apply it more lightly...

There is a sense of balance in it that is similar to the type of aromatic balance that can be found in Jicky by Guerlain except that Quadrille is even drier and less sweet. Jicky was initially created as a unisex fragrance in 1889 and I think that Quadrille can also be easily considered as a unisex scent.

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The name is a little puzzling to me as I am not certain whether the word "quadrille" is a reference to a dance that was popular in the 19th century or to the meaning derived from the Spanish term "cuadrillo" used to designate the party of four people helping the "torero" during a bullfight. Judging by the aroma of it, I lean towards the evocation of a bullfighting ring rather than that of a ball dance room. Allow me some poetic license.

Originally from Spain, it is well-known that couturier Balenciaga sought inspiration in the culture of Spanish bullfighting and, in particular, in the "jacket of light" worn by matadors. In 1947, he created boleros as evening clothes for women that were directly inspired from the emblematic outfit.

One can note that Balenciaga turned an originally masculine outfit into a feminine one because of the dominant civilian sartorial code, which ascribes embroideries to the feminine wardrobe.

I am further encouraged to contemplate the bullfighting reference as I see the perfume as embodying both traditional feminine and virile virtues.

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It evokes to me, the symbolic character of the toreador who represents, at once, a feminine and masculine figure.

The torero is dressed in a tight-fitting, luminous, colorful, and elaborately embroidered costume, in an era when masculine costumes are of a limited color palette and bearing no frills. He holds a cape that appears almost like a feminine skirt with its flowing lines. Both the lines and the colors are feminine. The toreador further wears dainty ballet slippers and brightly colored stockings. At the same time, the toreador is wielding a sharp sword to kill the bull.

There is, to me, a yin and yang balance in bullfighting, because it is both a graceful, feminine dance and a masculine, martial confrontation with death.

A fascinating insight I got into the art of the corrida was when I saw how toreadors actually talk to the bull they fight, and sometimes very softly so, accentuating again this mix of the masculine and the feminine. Ultimately in the corrida, these distinctions evaporate because what is left is the universal human confrontation with the idea of death.

Quadrille is such a perfume. It says, "I am ready", it puts its foot down. May come what may, the person who is wearing Quadrille is determined, ready to confront all situations and be at ease in any one of them. In other words, that person possesses natural elegance.

Like the corrida and the matador, Quadrille is rigorous, disciplined, and artistic. Its gendered characteristics give way to the expression of a moral character.

Quadrille is sometimes classified either as a fruity chypre or as a fresh-mossy chypre; in truth, it is both.

At the start of the perfume, there is a very distinct licorice accord which moves later to the background of the notes, but will not leave the perfume. The fragrance seems to be of an amber color with touches of deep licoricey black and later, a transparent blue-green breath of fresh air will appear floating above the base notes.

After the initial outburst of licorice, the perfume becomes slightly sweeter and definitely fruitier. I can detect plum and a little later, peach. It smells slightly sour and sweet, like prunes do, as in Parure by Guerlain or Femme by Rochas which have also characteristic plumey chypre notes.

A discreet jasmine floral note emerges but fruits remain the dominant accord. The perfume thus warms up, expands, but at the same time appears structured, controlled thanks to its austere, dry notes: the clove and the cardamom. It really smells of aniseed and/or licorice. As the perfume reveals its character, its mettle, if you will, controlling its undeniable sensuality, it encourages mental focus in the perfume-wearer.

This last characteristic is also an intrinsic element of the corrida; the matador offers a rare example of an extraordinary intensity of focus in his engagement with death.

The drydown is warm, sensual and a bit dark due to the licorice-y background. At some point, you start catching a breath of fresh air hovering above the amber and musk, probably the green part of the aniseed. On good days, the aniseed maintains its green character and releases a strange and seductive accord in the drydown. It is strange because it contributes to a mixed effect of cold and warmth. The spices are sometimes so dry, I can almost hear them crackle, like the clove in burning Kretek cigarettes.

Quadrille may turn off some people at first who will find the licorice, clove, and cardamom too much to handle, but it is undeniably a distinctive and elegant fragrance which develops a superb, sensual drydown.

Notes include lemon, bergamot, coriander, plum, peach, clove, cardamom, muguet, jasmine, oakmoss, vetiver, ambergris, powdery musk.

You can buy the perfume, starting at $21.99, at 1st Perfume.

Bolero by Balenciaga

Torero VI (salmón y oro) by Pedro Moreno-Meyerhoff
oil on wood panel
2003-2004.

Image is from www.arco.ifema.es

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16 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. What a great review! I always wondered why it is called "Quadrille," and your review tying the corrida to the perfume and its notes makes absolutely perfect sense.

    I just wish Quadrille smelled good on me. I have tested it twice now, but to no avail. It hates my body chemistry! :):)

    Hugs!

    violetnoir
  2. It's definitely not an easy perfume to wear -- I think that if it didn't mellow down on me, it would be a bit much.

    You'll find some good ones:)

    I find that it's worth trying to sleep with the perfume on to see how it all comes together after that.

    Mimi
  3. This review is very well done. It gives me something to sink my teeth into in understanding quadrille. I haven't yet had the pleasure though I have meant to do so. Thank you for the eloquent reminder.

    Cait
  4. Thanks!

    You know, I'm going to get a bunch of vials and if by the time they arrive you're still interested, I'll send you a sample of it. I'll email you:)

    Mimi
  5. This is my site:
    http://s-url.net/0ofz

    Coach
  6. this is a great review! this was my 1st serious perfume which i chose for myself in my early 20s, about 30 yrs ago. not sure how i found it! i bought it in san francisco, where i am from, and now live near paris...and can't find it!! i do not know 1st perfume but will try there. any other ideas? thanks a lot

    lisa
  7. Thanks! I saw it at Perfumebay at a good price. They are not the fastest ones to ship but their products are reliably fresh in my experience.

    Marie-Helene
  8. I, too, discovered Quadrille more than 40 years ago. The girl sitting next to me in a college class was wearing it. I literally swooned and wore it ever since, until it became impossible to find here in USA. It has been all too many years since I have been able to find it, but it remains my favorite.

    Jane
  9. hi, my name is karis and i would be very greatfull if somebody could tell me were i could buy quadrille in spain, i cant get hold of it anywere and its my mothers favorite perfume.
    in spain or on internet. thank you

    karis
  10. It was one of my first Perfumes, and I love it. I have 2 Bottles of original Quadrille Parfumance 100 ml Bottles and it is fantastic. I have found it in an old Parfum Store in Paris. The fragrance was also intact. I'm a 36 years old Man and Quadrille is one of my favorite Perfumes

    Ralf Fuchs

    • You know, that's a potentially great perfume for men, I agree. It has a masculine vibe to it, a certain austerity. Bravo on an unconventional choice! How did you cross the aisle to find it, I wonder?

      Chant Wagner
  11. Where can I buy the a bottle of Quadrille by Balenciaga ??
    Thank you
    C. Michel

    Cathy
  12. I too love this perfume. It was a recommendation from an old boss of mine and so wish it was available in the United States. I will try some of the places mentioned. Thank you!

    Janice
  13. This is my favourite perfume ever. Wore it all the time when living in UK, but impossible to find here in NZ, so will try buying on line & hope it's as wonderful as I remember. BUT - sorry, this is an overly pretentious review, reminiscent of some of the worst wine reviews & does this marvellous perfume no favours.

    Jean
    • Jean,

      I suggest you contribute a review of your own of this wonderful perfume. I'm sorry if you thought the review does not do it justice and I would absolutely love to see you do it justice since you're a long-time user of it.

      Please don't be shy and pitch in your review in this thread, by all means. I would actually be very interested in reading your own impressions of the scent.

      Best,
      Marie-Helene

      Chant Wagner
  14. I think this was an excellent review. Can anyone tell me if there are any perfumes which smell very similiar to Quadrille? I've all but given up finding it here in the United States. I would like to know if there are any current perfumes that smell like this one. Thanks.

    Tom Reygaert

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