Today's three-way review sounds like a weird fume-nerd joke. Three 80s perfumes with the big shoulder-pads and war paint walk into a bar: an aldehydic floral chypre, a fruity chypre, and a fruity-floral oriental.
A while ago I received my sample (won in a draw from the adorable meg at parfumieren, who wrote about it here and here) of Princess Marcella di Borghese. First impressions are of some lily of the valley flowers soaked in nail polish remover, and as it settles into the heart notes, there's a ravishing puff of animalic narcissus and oakmoss. Sadly, there's also something slightly screechy and off. It may be the the acetone that Meg points out in her review of Di Borghese, or it may be a make-up accord of rose, iris, and lily of the valley that has gone off slightly with age. Frankly, it makes me a bit headachy. But the payoff in the heart notes, once they settle, is pretty extraordinary, if short lived. I've been absolutely fascinated to try scents with narcissus in them, and now that I know what to smell for, I can definitely detect the dirty hay quality of narcissus along with the iris, which thankfully develops its way out of the makeup powder. As it dries down, it suddenly mutes itself and leather-purse-interior scent comes to the fore, then it's gone but for the wispiest traces. I think all the money went into that lovely narcissus in the heart notes.
The original Calvin Klein fragrance is at first just "perfumey," which is what I call it when a perfume has wonderful top notes creating a complex little halo effect, but gives me a overstimulated headache in the bargain. It has a provenance that suggests early, before-they-started-pumping-out-flankers artistic credibility that makes it worthy of seeking out for the jaded perfumista. Add in a favorable review from one of my favorite bloggers on vintage perfume, who calls it indispensible, and I was sold on the first cheapo eBay bottle I found. It was $20, so, ya know, not bad for a blind buy. After a few seconds, this fruity-floral chypre mellows into a surprisingly pleasing, slightly raspy concoction of fruit and florals, not at all as hollow-cheeked as many dry 80s chypres. It dries down to a beautiful soft tonka and sweet oakmoss. The off bit in this case is a plasticky quality that the fruit develops near the dry down. I like the top notes and dry down of Calvin Klein better, but the heart of Princess Marcella (that narcissus!) is more appealing.
In comparison to both, the original Gianni Versace is altogether warmer and more oriental in style, glowing with personality and quality materials. It is much more roundly ambery than either. This is why I love reviewing perfumes by comparison. When testing it on it's own this winter, I did not register just how ambery and golden it was. In fact, the amber gets to be a bit cloying for me after smelling it alongside more nimble, quicksilver chypres like di Borghese and Klein. Keep in mind that I'm not an amber fan. But finally the amber lifts its heavy cloak and you catch glimpes of some naughty leather and myrrh. This one is very nice in the far dry down.
So there you have it: three designer 80s perfumes, and between them they make up one well-designed perfume. Wish I could go all Dr. Frankenstein on them.
Image is of Jennifer Beals in The Bride, a campy and awesome 80s remake of The Bride of Frankenstein with Sting playing the doctor.