Notes on Notes: Galbanum

Happy Monday! As it’s the first Monday of the month, Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and I are both posting about a fragrance note we’ve chosen; this month, it is galbanum.

I’ve realized over the years that galbanum may be my most favorite note in fragrances. It is the common thread among the many green fragrances I love, such as Chanel’s No. 19 and Cristalle, Balmain’s Vent Vert and Ivoire, Dior’s Miss Dior, Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit and Chamade, Jacomo’s Silences, and almost any fragrance with “vert” or “green” in its name. It doesn’t just appear in older classics, though — it is a key note in newer scents like Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, Frederic Malle’s Synthetic Jungle, and Papillon’s Dryad, among others. Not surprisingly, it is often found in chypre fragrances, usually with oakmoss.

Yellow Galbanum blossom against black; image from
Galbanum blossom; image from

One interesting thing I’ve learned about galbanum is that, as used in fragrance, it is actually an aromatic gum resin extracted from the plants Ferula gummosa and Ferula rubricaulis. So although we often see it listed as a top note, because it does tend to announce its presence immediately, it often persists through the heart stage and among the base notes. It has been valued by perfumers as a fixative, as are many resins. Nowadays, it often appears in fragrance in a synthetic form, as explained here on Fragrantica (the article is archived so you must register or be already registered to read it). The article’s author, Matvey Yudov, says that the original Vent Vert, created in 1945 by Germaine Cellier for Balmain, had 8% galbanum in its formula!

One of my favorite galbanum-rich fragrances is the afore-mentioned Silences, by Jacomo, in its original format. The 2012 reformulation, Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, is lovely in its own right and still very green, but not as green as the 1978 original and 2004 reissue, which I think is the one I have. The first Silences has the following notes: top notes of Galbanum, Green Notes, Cassia, Bergamot, Orange Blossom, and Lemon; middle notes of Hyacinth, Lily-of-the-Valley, Iris, Narcissus, Rose, and Jasmine; base notes of Oakmoss, Vetiver, Cedar, Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Sandalwood, and Musk.

It just so happens that hyacinth, lily of the valley, iris, narcissus, and rose are some of my very favorite flowers in real life and accords in perfume. I was destined to love Silences! In it, the bitter, astringent green of the galbanum accord beautifully balances the sweetness of the floral notes, especially the orange blossom, rose and jasmine.

But since I’ve written before about Silences and some of the others mentioned above, this month I’ll turn to something different: Robert Piguet’s Bandit. The original, launched in 1944, was another creation of perfumer Germaine Cellier.

Vintage ad for Robert Piguet's Bandit perfume
Robert Piguet’s Bandit; vintage ad.

The version that was reissued in 1999 has these notes according to Fragrantica (though the notes list may belong more accurately to the 1944 original): “Top notes are Aldehydes, Galbanum, Artemisia, Bergamot, Neroli, Gardenia, Ylang-Ylang and Orange; middle notes are Carnation, Jasmine, Violet Root, Tuberose and Rose; base notes are Oakmoss, Leather, Civet, Vetiver, Patchouli, Myrrh, Musk, Amber and Coconut.” That version has now been replaced by Bandit Suprême, launched in 2020. It is still, as that article says, a perfume for “fearless women”!

Bandit makes a strong entrance right away, with the aldehydes lifting up galbanum and artemisia over the floral notes like a green hot-air balloon soaring over a garden or flowering fields. It reminds me of other strong aromatic perfumes that have undertones of leather, like Estée Lauder’s Azurée. Bergamot, which is both citrusy and green, makes a lively companion to the galbanum and artemisia, brightening whatever darkness they might otherwise shed. To my nose, the most prominent among the heart notes is the violet root, but that may be because the green top notes carry forward so powerfully. I can sense that the flower accords are there, especially the carnation, but if you asked me whether I smelled rose or jasmine after a blind sniff, I would say no.

The strongest base notes to my nose are oakmoss and leather with the galbanum still making its presence felt. If this 1999 version has any civet accord, it is of course synthetic, like the modern musk accord. But synthetic civet usually smells sort of urinous to my nose, and I don’t smell that here. Now that I know the galbanum used in fragrance is based on a resin, it makes sense to me that it carries all the way through until it meets up with myrrh in the base. The musk and amber accords create a warmth that was absent from the exhilarating opening — perhaps that’s the soft landing for the green hot-air balloon I imagined!

Green hot air balloon sailing over fields
Green hot air balloon; image from

Do you have any favorite fragrances with an obvious dose of galbanum? And remember to link over to Australian Perfume Junkies to get Portia’s Notes on that note!

24 thoughts on “Notes on Notes: Galbanum

  1. I love galbanum in fragrance. It’s lovely in Chanel No. 19 Poudre. I wore both Silences and Must de Cartier in the 1980’s. I was awash in galbanum! I recall EL’s Alliage having galbanum notes also, but Fragrantica lists only oakmoss and vetiver as woody, greenish notes. Hmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The essential oil is extremely tenacious and powerful! One tiny drop is all you need in a blend. I’m realizing that I too am a lover of green. I mentioned many on APJ so I will add here that I am glad you mentioned Estée Lauder. I was thinking about Aliage Sports Spray from the 1970s as well as vintage Private Collection. My guess is that even the modernized version of Eau de Private Collection which is less green and more floral must have galbanum in it. Finally I have had the chance to revisit an old love from the early 80s, Anais Anais, which pairs it with hyacinth. I enjoy the current version, Anais Anais L’Original enough to consider a full bottle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to know about Anais Anais, which I often see for sale but haven’t tried yet. I love hyacinth! I think a few of the EL fragrances that my nose “reads” as galbanum-heavy don’t have it on their notes lists, at least not on Fragrantica.


    • I’m adding Anais Anais to the list I posted on APJ too. My bottle is the vintage & sniffing her now makes me wonder why it was marketed to teens/young women.
      I’m sure those ads from the 70’s wouldn’t pass muster for a teen market today!

      Liked by 1 person

      • But you know I will tell you that I wore it in the very early 80s and I was a teenager back then. I thunked several bottles. It was very popular with young women. It seems such a mature scent, doesn’t it? But I remember we also wore chypres as young girls. Cristalle was my signature when I was 11 or 12….different times, different tastes.

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  3. Whilst I live Cellier’s work & Bandit “my” green leather was Azuree until EL messed about with the Oakmoss substitute. I’m tempted to try Aramis & see if that now has the greasy note.
    Another fragrance I adore that doesn’t list galbanum but has “green” notes is Choc de Cardin. Very devisive as it is a face slap of citrus & green. It’s like Gucci Envy’s madly jealous, less pretty, older step sister. Bitter green & sour lemons. Absolutely fabulous!

    Liked by 1 person

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