“The People v. Amarige” – Prosecution & Defense

The People v. Amarige – Case # 13-92745B

The Bailiff: “Oyez, Oyez, the Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Charles Highblossom presiding. On the docket, The People v. Amarige, Case # 13-92745B. The charge is olfactory assault and battery. State your name and business before the Court.”

[A small, balding man rises]: “I am the District Attorney, Luke Sneering.”

[A tiny, dark woman rises]: “I am the Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, representing the Defendant, Amarige de Givenchy.” [She points to the table where Amarige sits. She is enveloped in the most luxurious white furs, drips gleaming diamonds, and wears the largest, frothiest hat this side of a royal wedding. The defendant’s chin is raised defiantly, her eyes staring straight ahead, but she nervously fingers her diamond choker.]

[The white-wigged judge bangs his gavel]: “The Prosecution may proceed.”

THE PROSECUTION:

[The D.A., Mr. Sneering]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We are here to convict Amarige, from the house of Givenchy, with being the most heinous perfume in the world. Countless have fallen prey to her horrors. You will hear testimony from asthmatics whom we will wheel in from the Intensive Care Unit where they landed after a mere whiff of her olfactory napalm. You will hear of her ubiquity in the 1990s, Amarige 1990sassaulting you from every magazine perfume strip, invading your home through your mailbox, until there was no escape. You will hear from Luca Turin, the perfume expert, on how she is “truly loathsome,” a perfume he rated one-star, and which he hates the most in all the world. And, in the end, you will do the right thing: you will convict her of assault and battery, even though what we really should be charging her with are crimes against humanity!

Let us start at the beginning. Amarige was let loose upon the unsuspecting public in 1991, a fruity-floral Frankenstein created by the legendary nose, Dominique Ropion, who really should have known better! Her parts, according to Fragrantica, consist of:

top notes are composed of fresh fruit: peach, plum, orange, mandarin, with the sweetness of rose wood and neroli. The floral bouquet, very intense and luscious, is created of mimosa, neroli, tuberose, gardenia and acacia with a gourmand hint of black currant. The warm woody base is composed of musk, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, Tonka bean and cedar.

In those long-ago days, as the perfume blogger The Non-Blonde states so well, there was no escape from her fumed tentacles. You didn’t have to buy it to wear it.

[You] didn’t have to: you could go into a public building, a friend’s home or get on a bus and emerge with your hair and clothes smelling of it. Amarige was so recognizable and obvious that even I, lover of assertive perfumes, couldn’t deal with it. Not to mention the fact that it’s so very peachy you could feel the juice dribble on your chin.

The Non-Blonde may have had a baffling change of heart on Amarige, but she was right when she said that “women who maintain the old habit of marinating themselves in Amarige should have their noses and sanity examined.” (Frankly, I think the Non-Blonde should have her sanity examined for her sudden appreciation of Amarige. No, time does not heal all olfactory wounds!)

I said at the start that what we should be charging Amarige with are crimes against humanity. The world agrees with me. I present as witnesses, some posters from Basenotes.

[The court security guards wheel in the witnesses that they have ferried over from the Intensive Care Unit. From their gurneys, they feebly lift their heads to take the vow to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ so help them God. And then they testify.]

  • Tuberose’s reputation has been damaged almost irrepairably by this most horrid affair. If I were her I would sue.
  • Truly, truly awful. Radiates out to the orbit of Neptune. Causes asthma, retching and a stampede for the exit. Frightens children and pets, ruins dinner-parties, restaurant meals and plane journeys. Could be used to eradicate vermin from silos and warehouses. [..] Please people, stop buying this hideous juice so Givenchy will stop making it. It’s an abomination, a crime against humanity. I can’t understand why any woman would want to smell like this, or why her significant other would want to smell it on her. A chemical disaster of Chernobyl proportions.
  • this Perfume is a migraine in a bottle. […] The absolute worst fragrance I’ve ever smelled.
  • I own a bottle of it due to my initial attraction to its smell in small quantities. Wearing it, I feel nauseous and completely unable to eat anything. I tried to scrub it off in the shower but it won’t die. I haven’t eaten anything all day. I think this toxic odor could be useful as a diet aid.
  • Horrible, HORRIBLE soapy smell broadcasting out to the planet at gigawatt levels. I made the mistake of spraying this onto my wrist and I thought I’d never be able to remove it. This smell made me feel nauseous and headachey.

The final witness comes from Fragrantica:

If I had to describe this perfume in one word it would be ‘haunting’ because it’s unpleasant and, like the eerie warnings written in blood on the walls, impossible to scrub off.

‘Blood on the walls.’ Blood on the walls, people! The eerie warnings come, in part, from tuberose, one of the most indolic flowers around. What is an idole, you ask? I draw your attention to Exhibit 3, the Glossary of perfume terms. It is something found naturally in many heady, white flowers — like tuberose. In excessive amounts, it can lead to a feel of extreme full-blown, over-ripeness. In cases of fragrances like Amarige, it can turn to an aroma of sourness, even cat litter feces, plastic flowers, urine,  garbage heaps of rotting fruit, or all of the above. At best, Amarige is a fetid, rotting stinker that will turn from over-blown flowers to pure sourness and cat urine. At worst, it will choke up your airways, prevent all breathing and render you utterly unconscious. All in just 2 small whiffs.

You don’t believe me, I can see it in your eyes. Well, we shall prove it to you. Guards! Bring in the testers!”

[The guards set up two, tiny canisters at each end of the room. The jury shifts in their chairs nervously. A cordon of security blocks the doors. The District Attorney dramatically puts on a giant gas mask, akin to those used by soldiers in the first Persian Gulf War when there were fears of Saddam Hussein using chemical warfare — or Amarige — against American troops. Mr. Sneering points to the guards and nods.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.  

Three small whiffs of scent are released from each of the two canisters. White flower after white flower suddenly fills the room. They flit here, they flit there. They are omnipresent. There is a smell of orange, orange blossom, more orange blossom, and still more. It spreads its powerful molecules around the room like a carpet unfurling a wave. Little spectres of happy yellow mimosa flowers dance along the orange carpet. There is a shadow of some silken amber rising up, peeking its eyes above the wave of orange. Peach makes an appearance, adding to the orange haze filling the room and cocooning the white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia. The powerful ghosts dance merrily up to the District Attorney and punch him in his gas-masked nose. He falls back, but rises with a glare.

There is an audible gasp. A woman in the far back of the visitor’s gallery clutches her throat and gasps for air. Juror #4 faints completely. Jurors #6 and #9 have a look of rapt enchantment and glazed joy on their faces, much to the disgust of the District Attorney who sneers at them. In her seat, Amarige smiles faintly. With an almost imperceptible flick of her dainty chin, she tells the ever-growing, large white ghosts of tuberose and gardenia to move near Juror #5 who told of her upcoming wedding in Voir Dire. They move and the Juror suddenly sits up straighter in her chair, dreams of her wedding day and of Amarige trailing behind her in a billowing cloud of white.

The Jury Foreman has been watching these proceedings with unease. When Juror # 2 keels over beside him, begging for medical help and saying she is dying, he starts to back away. Quietly, he inches towards the door and then flees outright, only to head straight into a wall of security. The gas-masked police officers grimly shake their heads. He looks at them pleading. “I can’t take it any more. Get me out of here,” he whispers. “It’s in my nose, it’s burning my skin. There is so much fruit all of a sudden. I’m surrounded by peaches and a whiff of plum. It’s cloying, synthetic and artificial. And it’s covering every inch of me, like fruited animals devouring my skin. I need a shower. Please, have mercy.” They sympathetically shake their heads again and drag him, kicking and screaming, back to his chair.

The Judge has had enough of these theatrics. He orders medical attention for the gasping or collapsed bodies, lying crumpled like rag dolls throughout the room. He orders all the windows opened and the room to be fumigated before the court will reconvene the next day. He contemplates also ordering psychiatric evaluations for those jurors who had beatific, hypnotized, enraptured smiles on their faces, but decides he cannot seem biased.

The next day, the court reconvenes and the District Attorney resumes his case.]

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for subjecting you yesterday to the horrors of Amarige. But, I had to give you the chance to decide for yourself. The People’s case will conclude with our expert, Mr. Luca Turin, the most famous perfume critic in the world. Before you is Exhibit 4, an excerpt from his book with Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: the A-Z Guide. Note the categorization of Amarige as ‘Killer tuberose.’ Killer. Not extreme but ‘killer.’ The one-star review reads as follows:

We nearly gave it four stars: the soapy-green tobacco-tuberose accord Dominique Ropion designed for Amarige is unmissable, unmistakeable, and unforgettable. However, it is also truly loathsome, perceptible even at parts-per-billion levels, and at all times incompatible with others’ enjoyment of food, music, sex, and travel. If you are reading this because it is your darling fragrance, please wear it at home exclusively, and tape the windows shut.

Ladies and gentlemen, the People rest their case.”

THE DEFENSE:

[The Public Defender, Grace Hopeless-Causes, rises and speaks]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am here for one reason and one reason only. To represent the shamed, silent, closeted minority of women who adore Amarige and feel she has been most unjustly accused of crimes against perfumery! She has been vilified for far too long and it’s time for the Amarige lovers to defend her!

The weight and power of Luca Turin’s reputation has added the final, unjust nail in Amarige’s coffin. It is not tuberose who should sue Amarige, but Amarige who should sue Luca Turin for defamatory libel!

Don’t believe the District Attorney. He has presented only one, very slanted, side to the story. Did you note how he had only one witness from Fragrantica? Why is that, do you think? I’ll tell you why: because that was the sole, truly harsh review of Amarige. He didn’t tell you of all the others which spoke of the joy, the happy, dancing aura of Amarige, the image of beautiful wedding days, or posts writing of “sumptuous” finishes, of “sophistication” and “class.” There is no mention of how it is addictive, of how you can’t stop sniffing your wrists, of how intensely feminine it can make you feel.

And there is not a word about how it can drive men wild.

No, the District Attorney has presented a very lopsided, distorted picture of Amarige. Even when he quotes Luca Turin, he leaves out the words of his co-author, Tania Sanchez, who wrote in that same book:

Amarige is a genius work of perfumery, utterly recognizable, memorable, technically polished and spectacularly loud.

The D.A. quickly brushed over how they wanted to give it four stars. FOUR. And there is not a peep out of him over the fact that the very book he quotes as expert opinion actually lists Amarige in their top 10 BEST list at the back! It is in their 10 Best Loud Perfumes list, next to the 5-star Fracas, 5-star Angel, and the 5-star Lolita Lempicka perfumes. Strange for a perfume that Mr. Sneering and Luca Turin would have you believe is a crime against perfume humanity, no?

amarige1998Yes, Amarige is loud and a diva. Yes, one big squirt can blow your head off. But no-one ever said you should bathe in it, for heaven’s sake! Plus, don’t let the opening blast fool you. Amarige has average sillage and longevity. After the first ten minutes, it can fade to a much tamer level. If you don’t believe me, read Fragrantica, Basenotes or MakeupAlley, and see similar comments for yourself.

To all those who have had asthmatic attacks as a result of encounters with Amarige, I apologise. She apologises. Truly. But the same thing could happen from Lolita Lempicka, Angel or a whole host of perfumes. Why have they not been brought up on charges? Why does Luca Turin adore and worship the brilliance of Angel — a scent which many have compared to toxic nerve gas — but not the admittedly “genius,” “technically polished” masterpiece of Amarige? And, in all cases, isn’t it the fault of the wearers who spray on too much? Blaming Amarige for medical injuries triggered by over-use is akin to blaming a car manufacturer for accidents that may arise from someone texting while driving.

Where we concede and confess fully is the charge that Amarige is a diva. Yes. Yes, she is.Maria Callas Amarige is Maria Callas, the legendary opera singer, taking center stage under the bright white lights, and showered with diamonds by billionaires like Aristotle Onassis who loved her more than he ever did Jackie O. Amarige is not meant to be a simpering, quiet wallflower, sitting in the corner, awaiting a man to ask her to dance. She will push her way to the center of the floor and dance by herself, mesmerizing a room — public opinion be damned!

As for the charge that she is a cloying monster with some potentially synthetic undertones, we plead the Fifth. Even if true, and we are not saying that it is, many other perfumes are too. And, yet, do you see them in this courtroom? Speaking only for myself, I do not find Amarige to be synthetic. I think she is exactly what Givenchy and Dominique Ropion meant for her to be. As Fragrantica explains:

The name of the perfume ‘Amarige‘ is an anagram of the French word ‘Mariage.’ That is why this fragrance is as intensive as a strong feeling, merry, juicy and unforgettable as a moment of happy mariage. It is so opulent and floral that it seems like its composition includes all the beautiful flowers that exist in the world.

The Amarige woman is graceful, playful and charming, a real French woman in love. She radiates joy and gives a happy smile.

Maria Callas Tosca

Maria Callas in “Tosca.”

Despite her opulence and diva status, Amarige can be a cheap date. You can find a 1 oz bottle on Kohl‘s for $50 or on Sephora for $49. A 1.6 oz bottle costs $67 on Sephora, and much less on eBay. Compare those prices to more reputable white floral or tuberose scents: Robert Piguet‘s Fracas starts at $95; while Frederic Malle‘s Carnal Flower starts at $230 at Barneys.

Whatever she is, I realise this is the most hopeless of all lost causes. Amarige’s reputation has been destroyed beyond all measure. I can sit here and talk to you about her lovely white femininity, her peach exuberance, that dry-down of spice and amber, and it will make no difference at all. There is simply no hope of restoring her good name.

But I make this plea to you, ladies and gentlement of the jury: do not let the perfume world’s easy, facile dismissal of Amarige influence you. They are not objective and they have followed Luca Turin like sheep. After all, they proudly admit their love for Fracas, another white flowers explosion that make people gasp for air.

Admittedly, Fracas is a much more elegant creature than the brazen hussy, Amarige. And, yes, hard as it is to believe, Fracas almost seems like almost a quiet, shy child in comparison. But are they really so different as to warrant Fracas’s triumphant twirl in the spotlight as a cult favorite and legend, while Amarige wilts in the wilds of guilty obscurity? Again, Fracas may be of slightly better quality and there is not a hint of anything synthetic about it. But it too is an over-blown indolic scent that can turn sour or lead to thoughts of rotting fruit. Amarige is more fruity than Fracas, true, but there is luscious peach, orange and amber in Hermès‘ sophisticated 24 Faubourg, after all.

Unlike 24 Faubourg’s sophisticated woman, however, Amarige is like a happy child, all yellow, orange and white dancing flowers, full of exuberance and femininity. It is not a scent for those who like discreet, quiet, unobtrusive fragrances. It’s not for those who can’t stand heady, narcotically powerful ones, either. And it is most definitely not for those who can’t bear white flowers.

But if you love Amarige, I beg of you: do not go quietly into that good night, hiding your face in shame and covering your scarlet letter, that “A” which marks you as an A-marige lover. Rise up and defend her name. Admit your folly and sins. Admit she is glorious. Don’t wear her only in the privacy of your own room with the windows duct-taped shut. And find her not guilty of crimes against perfumery!”

[The Public Defender sits down and the jury leaves for its deliberations. There is no word from them for three days. Then, finally, they return.]

THE VERDICT:

Hung jury.

[Nine jurors wanted to convict.

Three held out, utterly in love, and on their way to buy a bottle for themselves.]

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Perfume Review – Monsieur de Givenchy by Givenchy: Vintage vs. Modern

I like to wear men’s colognes. I admit that quite proudly. In fact, the modern commercial trend towards generic sugar bombs and gourmands has made me resort more and more to men’s cologne of late. So, from time to time, I will post brief reviews or impressions of ones I enjoy. One of them, deeply ingrained in the memories of my childhood, is the 1959 classic, Monsieur de Givenchy (which I’ll just call “Vintage” or “MdG-V” from now on) by nd.1968Givenchy. My father used to wear it, along with a number of other classic, legendary men’s fragrances. (In fact, it’s thanks to my father that I ever developed a nose for men’s cologne to begin with!) Recently, a dear friend of mine recently sent me a very large decant of the vintage version, circa 1970s judging by his box. And it was as amazing as I remember.

Being inquisitive and also lucky to have a father with a nice selection of colognes, I decided to poke through his current collection. There, I saw a new-ish bottle of Monsieur de Givenchy (hereinafter “Modern” or “MdG-M” with the “M” standing for “Modern.”) My father dates it to about 2004 or 2005. So, I temporarily stole his bottle and decided to do a side-by-side comparison. Bottom line: I think there is clearly a huge, HUGE difference between the two fragrances. And one of them is terrible.

First, I need to make a point of clarification about the different versions. MdG may have been reformulated a few times over its 50 year history. The array of boxes shown on different Basenotes threads could be a hint of that.

Modern version of MdG on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

Modern version on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

(I’ve seen at least 3 different ones.) Making matters more complicated, Basenotes states that Givenchy issued a fragrance called “Monsieur de Givenchy II” in 1993 as an updated version of the classic, but then discontinued it, before finally just re-issuing it as Greenergy. It is a totally different scent. So too is Givenchy Gentleman (1974). Givenchy Gentleman and Monsieur de Givenchy are complete opposites. The Gentleman is heavier with patchouli and leather, while the MdG is a citrus chypre. If you’re still with me, I fear I may lose you when we get to 2007.

2007 was when Givenchy launched Les Parfums Mythiques – Monsieur de Givenchy Givenchy for men, a fragrance that has very different ingredients listed.

Mythique version.

Mythique version.

For example, the carnation, cinnamon, and pepper in the top notes are now gone. And, by all reports, the oakmoss heart has been so diluted that it has essentially vanished. Despite these huge changes, Les Mythiques appears to have completely replaced the MdG — whatever its prior formulations. Adding to this belief is the fact that Givenchy’s Mythiques line consists of a number of its classical colognes like Xeryus and Vetyver; it would seem to be a complete rebranding and modernisation of all its oldest fragrances. So, for the purposes of this review, when I refer to “MdG-M,” I’m referring to the final version of Monsieur (1990s to 2006) prior to its reformulation as Les Mythiques. And the Vintage version refers to the 1970s/80s formulation (or older) that is the true MdG, in my opinion.

One thing I can assure you: you can easily find the Vintage version on eBay. And, in this case (perhaps even more than usual), the vintage version is best. It is absolutely something you will want to seek out if you love aromatic citrus scents that are very discreet.  But onward and upwards, to the fragrances themselves.

MdG (in all its permutations) is commonly classified as “Citrus Aromatic.” Its notes are not so clear beyond the basics which are: lemon, lavender, bergamot and sandalwood. The details, however, vary from site to site. Fragrantica lists the notes for MdG-V as follows: “Top: carnation, cinnamon, pepper and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are sandalwood, musk and oakmoss.”

Basenotes has even less details, with no reference to the carnation and cinnamon, let alone the geranium and civet that I know is there. NST has a much more complete list, though it’s completely unclear to me which version of MdG they’re talking about. Nonetheless, this is how NST described the original scent:

A hesperides lover’s dream come true, Monsieur is composed of bergamot, lemon, lime, petitgrain, lavender, clary sage, orange, basil, musk, civet and cedar. Don’t worry — if it sounds herbal, it is, but only slightly.

That’s for the Vintage version. In contrast, the notes for the Modern version are a quarter of that. Fragrantica lists them as follows: “Top notes are bergamot and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are hinoki wood and oakmoss.” (I have absolutely no idea what “hinoki wood” is, but Google informs me that it’s Japanese cypress.) My father’s bottle of MdG-M essentially lists the same, only with the inclusion of “coumarin” (a classic Fougère element), oak moss “extract,” and “cinnamal.” (No sight  of anything resembling “hinoki,” by the way.) Observe how different the ingredient list for the Modern scent is from both Fragrantica and NST’s listings for the vintage. For the Vintage, I think we should go with NST’s fuller version of the ingredients because they seem much more accurate to my nose.

I put on a 3-4 average splashes of the Vintage (circa 1970s or early 1980s) on my right arm, and about 3-4 sprays of Modern (circa 2004) on the left. From the very opening splash of the Vintage, I got a sparkling, super bright explosion of green. Green, green and more green, but never in a linear, one-note manner. There was lemon, verbena and mossy greens with depth, complexity and a lovely herbal note. In contrast, my 3-4 squirts of the Modern led me to actually mutter out loud: “What the hell is this???!” It was watery and diluted beyond belief. The difference was mind-boggling.

There was such a wimp factor that I hurriedly sprayed 2 more bursts, then an additional 2 to 3 for good measure. So, now, I’ve got about 7 or 8 sprays of the Modern on my left arm and about 3-4 good splashes of the Vintage on the right. And I still smell the Vintage more! The Modern version was all watery lemon with absolutely no oakmoss from the onset. After 15 minutes, I suppose you can say that it had turned into lemon-lavender soap. I suppose. There is really so little to say about it.

In contrast, the Vintage version had started to open up. The lemon, verbena and oakmoss accords began to include geranium and lavender. They emerged quite prominently, along with the carnation and a faint touch of soap. I wonder if I can smell the sage and basil, or if I’m imagining it, but it doesn’t matter. Oh, lordie, is that geranium lovely! I can smell no cinnamon or orange, but I’m glad for it because I think it would detract from the lovely green, herbal woodiness. The petit-grain also helps in creating that impression. (Petit-grain is the result of distilling the twigs from citrus trees, creating a bitter, woody, masculine scent.) The result is an incredibly  balanced, harmonious and sophisticated composition that oozes elegance and class.

An hour in, the vintage version has turned to a lemon lavender musk with soap, some lingering geranium and wood (especially the cedar). There is also some warmth. The musk, civet and sandalwood start a quiet purr. Some have said that the vintage contains real santal oil, and I can believe it because there is a real depth and richness to the warmth.

I think these base notes are what separate MdG-V from another fragrance that it is often compared to: Chanel‘s classic, Pour Monsieur (1955). Pour Monsieur is much, much soapier. It’s also greener and has spice (ginger, cardamon, coriander, basil) at its base, while there is none in MdG. Instead, MdG-V has warmth (sandalwood) and musk (civet). MdG-V is actually closer to Dior‘s legendary Eau Sauvage (1966) in its vintage form.

However, it is all very discreet. Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry discreet. Everyone always says that MdG is fleeting (in all its formulations), and that is especially true on me. While most give the vintage about 4-5 hours in longevity, on me it starts to seriously fade 2 hours in. A little after the fourth hour, I can smell it faintly on the skin only if I touch my nose to my arm and inhale forcefully.

In contrast, the MdG-M version died about 2 hours in. Died completely, if I may add. Dead as a door nail. And I have little to say about the rest of its development prior to that point. I think it’s an utterly undistinguished, worthless, and watery scent that is easily superceded by most drugstore lemon-lavender soaps. Yes, there is a hint of civet that adds some muskiness later down the line but, really, this thing is a travesty to the name of Monsieur de Givenchy! Others think that there is no difference between vintage MdG and its later incarnations but… bah, humbug! Not in my opinion. (And one can only shudder to think of how bad the Mythiques version must be, given the reports of even further dilution.)

However, I firmly believe that the MdG-Vintage is worth a small effort to track down on eBay. I am usually someone who opts for orientals, spice and warmth, but I can’t help but really like MdG-V. Despite its limited sillage and fleeting longevity, it’s pure class and refinement. I see MdG as something Cary Grant would wear with a Saville Row bespoke grey suit, double-breasted and with a discreet ,white pochette.

And, yet, I hear that it was Freddie Mercury’s signature scent. Freddie Mercury! Queen! Tight, red leather pants, a bare, hairy chest, bouche à pipe lips, and hot, smoldering sexuality! Freddie Mercury, the original sexpot rebel that Adam Lambert only wishes he could be. Freddie Mercury and MdG!!! Honestly, there aren’t enough exclamation points to convey the incongruity of that pairing in my mind. One thing is for certain: it proves that MdG is not necessarily your grandfather’s cologne. So, if you like herbal citrus colognes and you’re in the market for a refined office scent that is both sophisticated and elegant, you may want to consider this one.

But I don’t promise that anyone will think you’re Freddie Mercury….