Modern Trends in Perfume – Part III: Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?

With Sugar, Dessert, and Eccentric Extremes under our belt, the one of the two categories of modern perfumes is what I call (when feeling polite) the Clean category. (The final one, the Wood or Oud group, will be discussed in Part IV.) but is useful to touch upon briefly here as it’s a sharp counterbalance to fragrances that seek to evoke perhaps no actual perfume but rather, the soapy, water smell of freshness.

Fresh and Clean. One of the most popular of the current trends in perfume are scents that are light, crisp, clean and fresh. I credit the Japanese designer, Issey Miyake, with spearheading this trend in 1992 when he launched L’Eau d’Issey, an old favorite of mine. Categorized as a floral aquatic, Fragrantica states that its main accords are: floral, aquatic, ozonic, fresh, white floral and rose. L’Eau d’Issey reflects the designer’s ethos of clean, minimalistic lines from the sleekly triangular frosted glass bottle with its silver point to the intentional evocation of water and transparency. As Fragrantica notes:

Issey Miyaké thought about creating a perfume that was “as clear as spring water”, combining the spray of a waterfall, the fragrance of flowers, and the scent of springtime forest. L’Eau d’Issey achieved an enormous popularity, especially in the United States in the 1990s. L’Eau d’Issey is an aquatic floral scent with transparent notes of lotus, freesia and cyclamen and juicy melon. The middle note of peony, lily and carnation reveals the perfume’s character. The end note is a refined woody scent with the notes of cedar, sandal, musk and amber. It was created in 1992 by Jacques Cavallier.

Id.

Personally, I’m not sure I fully agree with “refined woody scent” and the warm base-notes that are listed. I smell a crisp, watery floral that is incredibly elegant and yet, clean and fresh even in its final dry-down. True, that finish is a lot warmer than its beginning, but it’s more like the subtle whisper of thin silk, not the warm, thicker, more enveloping cashmere that I personally and mentally attribute to notes like “sandal, musk and amber.”

The incredible popularity of L’Eau d’Issey and of many of the similarly understated, fresh, crisp scents which Miyake subsequently put out. undoubtedly influenced Giorgio Armani. Like Miyake, Armani is a designer whose aesthetic leans towards the understated, clean, minimalistic and elegant. In 1995, he launched Acqua di Gio with aquatic, floral, “fresh” accords.

Now, I need to state at the onset that I loathe Acqua di Gio. Yes, loathe. To me, you’re paying a lot of money to smell like laundry detergent. I am not a fan. That cannot be said enough times. I don’t care what its notes are supposed to be; for me, it’s verboten.  Adding insult to injury for me is the fact that it’s damn hard to escape the pervasive influence of that bloody perfume! Whatever the popularity of L’Eau d’Issey, Acqua di Gio has surpassed it many thousands of times over. Everyone seems to wear it. Rollerballs of the damn thing are routinely tossed into shopping bags at Neiman Marcus as a Gift with Purchase. Other brands have attempted (alas, successfully) to replicate it constantly in some way or another. Giorgio Armani essentially threw wide open the flood gates to what I personally consider as “The Age of Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener” fragrances.

Some of Acqua di Gio’s (many unfortunate) offspring are similarly aquatic, fresh, clean, crisp and/or soapy. For example: Kenzo’s L’Eau, Bath and Body Works’ Fresh Cucumber, Bobbi Brown’s Bath, the clean, unimposing and not particularly long-lasting Omnia Crystalline by Bvlgari, Calvin Klein’s Eternity Aqua, Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Eau de Lagons, Davidoff’s Cool Water, Gucci’s Flora Eau Fraiche, and Hermès’ Jardins en Méditerranée by the famous perfume nose Jean-Claude Ellena. But perhaps few things underscore my point more than the brand that is actually entitled “Clean“! With perfumes named Warm Cotton, Fresh Laundry, Shower Fresh and Lather Clean, they are the ultimate embodiment of the trend away from perfume and towards the …. er… all natural? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend $69 for a 2.14 oz bottle merely to smell like a Fresh Shower. I will just take that bloody shower for the few cents that each soapy outing towards cleanliness may cost me.

As I have said repeatedly, perfume is subjective and personal. One person’s poison is another person’s Holy Grail. And that is completely normal. But since this is my blog, we shall speak no more of these vile things and move the discussion to the most recent (and perhaps most upcoming and popular) new trend: Oud or Aoud fragrances. You can read all about that in Part IV.  Until next time!

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For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part IV, “Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?,” go here.

7 thoughts on “Modern Trends in Perfume – Part III: Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?

  1. For what it’s worth, I have L’Eau par Kenzo for Men and I wouldn’t categorize it with the monstrosity that is Acqua di Gio. It’s fresh and clean, but not in a detergent-y way (at least not to my nose). To me, it smells like fresh forest-y air without smelling like an air freshener. I’m not particularly enamored with it (minimal longevity, not particularly inspiring, and pretty boring overall), but I personally would give it a *little* more credit. LOL. Also, I was thinking more about fresh scents – it’s funny because I always buy unscented laundry detergent. I guess my problem is that some of these scents is that they smell like “fresh” or “clean” if fresh or clean were created in a lab by scientists who had never actually smelled it, but were told what it smelled like. There is something really artificial about a lot of the scents in that genre, at least to my amateur nose.

    • I’m not sure I would categorize a lot of things with the “monstrosity that is Acqua di Gio” (love it!), if only due to the unparalleled popularity of the latter. Jokes aside, there is a wide range in the “clean and fresh” category with the apex of negativity, imo, being a $69 bottle of something specifically intended to make one smell like clothes straight from the dryer. Even within the Kenzo range, there is diversity. And that too applies to the seemingly gazillion L’Eau variations. (Did you know there are about 8 or so just in Kenzo’s L’Eau line??!!) You’re right, they don’t smell like laundry detergent (again, the most extreme end of this category) but they definitely are part of the whole “fresh and clean” trend. I think Kenzo’s variation of this is, for the most part, a more floral twist on fresh and clean, in line with the L’Eau d’Issey that sparked this whole thing to begin with. If you’re interested, these are the notes for L’Eau par Kenzo for men: http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Kenzo/L-Eau-par-Kenzo-pour-Homme-79.html and these are the ones for the women’s version: http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Kenzo/L-Eau-par-Kenzo-78.html They’re all light, fresh, crisp, summery and watery, but with a small twist — be it sweet or more citrus-y. Either way, they still belong in this category — even if they don’t go to the extremes of some of the others. You might call it the Summery SUB-category of Clean and Fresh. I think D&G’s Light Blue belongs in here too.

      On a separate note, I completely agree with you on the rather artificial nature of some of these perfumes/colognes. There is something a bit synthetic to them. I think that is because a lot of them achieve that “aquatic” accord or element due to some sort of musk (there are diff. kinds) — and the musk may be a synthetic sort sometimes, esp. after 2010 and the IFRA regulations. If you look at the notes for a lot of these Aquatic/Ozonic fragrances, you will see that what a lot of people smell high up on the list of notes is the white-ish box reflecting “musk” and it happens perfume after perfume, even though “musk” is actually not high on the notes or sometimes not even mentioned at all! It’s like that Guardian article I quoted in Part II which discusses the ingredients (sometimes synthetic) which the scientists used to evoke certain scents or scenes.

      Acqua di Gio, for example, includes a chemical compound called “Calone” which Fragrantica describes as “Odor profile: Synthetic note composed to reproduce the light, airy and aqueous feel of watermelon/melon. Very popular in “marine” compositions and defining of 1990s perfumery due to its overabundance in best-sellers such as Aqua di Gio, L’Eau d’Issey and Cool Water.” http://www.fragrantica.com/notes/Calone-423.html So, you see, your nose isn’t wrong at all; some of these DO have very artificial, synthetic elements — whether it’s Calone or another chemical compound.

  2. L’Eau d’Issey is still and will always be one of my favourites. My mom bought it for me to wear the day of my high school grad back in ’94 (yikes don’t tell)! She has great taste!
    I agree with you the onset of the clean, fresh and soapy perfumes have left a lot to be desired. Don’t even get me started on Davidoff’s cool waters! Ugh!! I have yet to try a Kenzo perfume I like, but where I live it’s not really a popular brand so the selection is of course limited…and I have to agree with you perfume is definitely subjective and personal! So, who am I to say Kenzo perfumes are terrible:)
    I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

    • Thank you! Nice to see you here. 🙂 L’Eau d’Issey will always be a favorite of mine, too. And, yes, perfume is subjective and personal — but I don’t think that should stop one from having opinions, forceful or otherwise! So, feel free to say that you feel Kenzo scents are terrible. LOL. Even if you said that my absolute favorite scent of all (YSL’s Opium — original, unreformulated, vintage version) was terrible, I wouldn’t mind.

      • Lol! Good point! But I do like YSL’s Opium, I find it to be a complex scent…kinda of sensual of sorts. I’ve never worn it personally but it smells amazing on my friend. It kinda of belongs to her now as anytime I smell it reminds me of her.

        • You know, I totally understand that concept of people owning certain smells. In my family, certain fragrances were totally off-limits because ONE of the women would be wearing it. It was a perfume monopoly of sorts that everyone respected. Except my mother….. That’s kinda a sore point, actually, because she took over my Cartier Baiser du Dragon to such a point, I could no longer wear it at all. Too much mental association, ya know? Have you ever had a signature fragrance? Or is it hard because there are so many great fragrances out there? 🙂

  3. Pingback: Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness? | Kafkaesque

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