One Thousand Scents

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Business Sense: Armani (vintage)

It seems like everything I've been writing about recently has been a chypre, but honestly, oakmoss was ubiquitous up until the late 1980s: if it wasn't in everything, it came pretty close.

It also seems like everything I've been writing about recently has been accompanied by a comment along the lines of "They don't make them like these any more." And they don't. They can't: even if the ingredients hadn't fallen victim to IFRA regulations, the fragrances wouldn't sell well enough to make them a viable business proposition, because they belong to another time. They'd smell "old-fashioned" or "old-ladyish" to the modern (i.e. young) nose. Women over 40 might buy these interesting, complex fragrances, but such women are not the perfumery world's target market any more.

Basenotes lists the notes for 1982's Armani thusly:

Top Notes: Bergamot, Spearmint, Galbanum, Green Accord, Aldehyde, Pineapple, Marigold.
Middle Notes: Muguet, Tuberose, Orris, Narcissus, Rose, Cyclamen, Orchid. 
Base Notes: Oakmoss, Amber, Sandalwood, Musk, Benzoin, Tonka, Cedarwood.

As often as I like to say that a list of notes is usually pretty useless, here's the exception; that's a plausible description of Armani, which is as classically constructed as anything you can imagine. The middle is a big, no-kidding bouquet of flowers, lots of cyclamen but otherwise a huge abstract armload of flowers. Jammed down through it is a luminous spike of bitter greenery fizzing with aldehydes and a surprisingly clear spearmint note that manages to avoid toothpaste-ness. And underscoring the whole thing is of course an ungodly quantity of oakmoss, accompanied by a great dollop of sandalwood. The presence of amber, benzoin, and tonka could have steered the whole thing towards candy sweetness (and nowadays certainly would), but Armani was not interested in being sweet, or approachable, really, or even likeable. It was launched in the early 1980s, so, like so many strict chypres, it had only one thing on its mind: control. The flowers were a disguise. Armani was a perfume not to seduce, but to search and destroy.

Remember the Sigourney Weaver character in Working Girl, who wore Shalimar as her weapon of choice? I never believed it. Melanie Griffith's curvaceous, fluffy-haired Tess McGill

would wear sugared-bronze Shalimar (and did) when she meant business, but a woman like Katharine Parker would be wearing an intimidating floral chypre like 1988's Knowing, or 1984's Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, or Armani, and she'd mean it, too.



  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger cpk, at 3:54 PM  

  • Brilliant. I agree that the power bitches would be wearing Paloma and Knowing, but for me somehow, Armani has something extraordinarily vulnerable to it in the heart as well; a powerful tenderness. Does Sigourney have an achilles heel? I have never seen the film and now want to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:56 PM  

  • I doubt "Working Girl" has aged well: it's as specifically of its time (the late 1980s) as "Easy Rider" was of the late '60s: all the main characters are caricatures of the ramped-up New York capitalism of the time. It's profoundly anti-feminist, too: Weaver plays the game of business ruthlessly, as a man would have to, and (spoiler alert!) is fired for it after taking credit for Griffith's idea, thrown out on her (and I quote) "bony ass", while acceptably feminine and round-assed Griffith is rewarded with a promotion and an office.

    Weaver is still a woman, though: she loves her perfumes and her negligees, and while she might think of her romantic entanglement with Harrison Ford as another smart business deal, what's wrong with that, really? That's why I thought Armani would be perfect for her: all those ravishing flowers ("powerful tenderness" is a great way to describe it) encased within the rigid framework of a chypre.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 4:38 AM  

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