Guerlain’s Mitsouko (1919) was the first perfume that opened my mind to the possibility of wearing perfume designed for woman. I was cautious to begin with. Can a man really wear a scent designed with the fairer sex in mind? After some time and mental adjustment I became oblivious to the label, pour homme or femme; the only thing that mattered was that I thought it smelled good on me. Following Mitsouko I browsed the historical timeline of feminine classics in search of other perfumes I could adapt as my own. Meandering through the 1920s and 1930s I stopped at Robert Piguet’s Bandit. Created in 1944 by France’s first prominent female perfumer, Germaine Cellier; Bandit is a true wild card when you consider what was happening in 1940s perfume and fashion. It is a brut of a perfume in contrast to the pretty florals that were being created at the time. Bandit was launched towards the end of World War II and smelling it you can sense it has been created from a mind surrounded by conflict. The perfume is stripped of any feminine frivolities unlike the sparkling aldehydes of No 5, the seductive resins of Shalimar or the opulent florals of Joy. Bandit smells like a military uniform instead of a couturier’s ball gown. Playing with the structure of Coty’s Le Chypre, Germaine Cellier had the innovative idea to build a leather accord into the fragrance. Her leather accord relied on a synthetic raw material called isobutyl quinolene, a dry, cold, animalic odour. The result is a profoundly androgynous scent at polar opposites with the vixen Fracas, the archetypal tuberose perfume Cellier created four years later for Piguet. It is well documented that the house of Piguet was spoiled towards the end of the 20th century. The company that had bought the brand’s copyright played with the formula of Fracas and Bandit to cut costs, disastrous for any tuberose perfume. Under new ownership from the mid 1990s, the brand has been reinstated to its former glory and perfumer Aurelien Guichard works with Piguet to reconstruct some of the classic Piguet perfumes as well as composing new creations directed by the brand’s current CEO, Joe Garces.
At its beginning Bandit is the coolest shade of green with a surge of galbanum, a resinous material Germaine Cellier overdosed in her composition Vent Vert for Balmain the following year, perfume’s first green fragrance. A little ylang ylang modifies this cooling tone; neroli and bitter citrus notes make the fragrance sparkle for a fleeting moment. If the thick leather veil does not distract you, you will glimpse upon a delicate bouquet of white flowers and a full bush of the softest roses. This is as classically feminine as Bandit gets before the floral heart succumbs to the weight of leather and moss. Isobutyl quinolene has a sharp and bitter odour. It is often paired with warmer notes, woods and resins in order to balance it out but Cellier chose to leave the note uncensored. With musk and a dry chypre accord, Cellier’s leather has a chalk-like feeling, brittle and powdery white. I have the eau de parfum version in my collection, which has great longevity on my skin. If the beginning is a cool shade of green, the dry down feels like an expansive plain of neutral grey.
Bandit is one of my winter favourites. I often pair perfumes with fabrics and I like wearing Bandit with wool. The two seem to work naturally well together. I find it more suitable for daywear during the working week rather than a weekend scent. In Roja Dove’s book, The Essence of Perfume, he describes the outrageous launch of Bandit, which was accompanied by mannequins in leather masks brandishing pistols and knives like highwaymen. It was controversial marketing for 1944, loaded with sexual innuendo. In 2013 our threshold for x-rated media is much higher so Bandit is not the controversy it once was, but I’m guessing if vintage S&M is your thing, Bandit might also tickle your fancy. Kneel!
Perfumer: Germaine Cellier
Bottle Designer: Robert Piguet
Release Date: 1944
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry woods