The other day I was in our local shopping centre, a dismal place mainly occupied by cheap shoe and card shops interspersed with empty units where businesses have ceased trading, presumably because they went bump. Our town seems to be the kiss of death to retailers, though T K Maxx and charity shops representing all the main ailments continue to thrive. In the centre are a handful of mobile stalls where you can buy blingy urethane handbags for £5.99, convert your gold jewellery into cash, have your laptop repaired while you wait (astonishingly!), or your eyebrows threaded in full view of passers by.
My attention was suddenly caught by a new perfume shop that had opened up in exactly the same spot as the previous one which had closed. Clearly the owners must have thought they could make a go of it where the other shop had failed. Although I was familiar with all the mainstream brands stocked, I stepped inside and hovered near the door, scanning the fixtures for (relative) bargains of anything reasonably congenial.
Meanwhile, the sales assistant approached a chap - in his 30s at a guess - who was standing in front of the men's section looking puzzled.
"Can I help you, sir?" came the friendly inquiry.
"Well yes, actually. I was staying over at a friend's last night and he let me borrow his deodorant this morning and I really liked it. So I am looking for the cologne that goes with it if there is one."
"Fine, sir - so what was this deodorant like?"
"It was black."
No further questions were forthcoming.
"Oh I see, well what about this one here, sir?" said the assistant, proffering a bottle of Sean John I Am King.
"Ah yes, Sean John rings a bell, that'll be it!" exclaimed the man, beaming with delight.
I couldn't help noticing that I Am King comes in GREY packaging, whereas the customer had clearly stated BLACK. And he had only applied deodorant that morning so you would think the memory would be fairly fresh. So when I got home I googled the Sean John range and found out that the packaging for Unforgivable is jet black. And there is an Unforgivable deodorant.
To complicate matters further, there are THREE other Sean John scents which need to be ruled in or out of the inquiry: Unforgivable Black (2008), I Am King Of The Night and Unforgivable Night (both 2009). The first is in a black bottle, while the latter two have black and gold packaging - not quite as deep black as Unforgivable or Unforgivable Black - more of a charcoal in fact - but definitely black enough to be described as such by someone hastily squirting his armpits with a canister of that general hue. However, the two most recent launches were limited editions, and having quickly checked the shop's website, I saw that it doesn't carry any of the three. Plus I couldn't find any evidence of deodorants for these other Sean Johns, though I cannot be sure on this point.
So did the customer suddenly remember that he had in fact meant grey, not black? Or had the SA run out of Unforgivable and taken the view that the two scents were close enough for her to offer him this as a covert substitution?
To gain "closure" on this incident, I thought I should look at the notes of the two scents to see how similar they are. Note the emphatic nature of the capitalisation, which only serves to reinforce Sean John's regal status...
SEAN JOHN I AM KING
top notes: Tangerine, Orange, Cranberry, Crème de Cassis, Champagne
middle notes: Water Accord, Lemon Crème, Key Lime Pie
base notes: Sandalwood, Labdanum, White Moss, Powdery Notes, Cedarwood, Vetiver
SEAN JOHN UNFORGIVABLE
top notes: Sicilian Lemon, Champagne Accord, Morrocan Tangerine
middle notes: Mediterranean Air, Iris, Clary Sage, Lavender
base notes: Cashmere Wood, Sea Moss, Amber, Tonka Bean
Hmm, now I am fairly rubbish at imagining how scents might smell based on their note listings, but I Am King sounds a lot fruitier and less aromatic to me, and it would seem that a couple of reviewers agree.
Here is Grottola's verdict on Basenotes:
"egotistical fruit juice cologne"
And Robin, of Now Smell This:
"I Am King is not fancy or fun; if anything, it’s a mid-grade, boring sport fragrance — for young women."
And then I found someone who had actually written (after a fashion) about the difference between the two in an Ezine article:
"Comparisons, if any to Unforgivable Cologne, the first fragrance launched by Sean John cannot be completely shunned. First, the mix of notes is so typical of Sean John and his fragrances. You would find the strong citrus-y opening note in I am King Cologne, though in the Unforgivable, you could find a milder version of the opening note itself. One place where Sean John fragrances score over other fragrance lines is the uncompromising mix of French berries, which is so typical in these fragrances."
I love the notion of the "uncompromising mix of French berries".
Well, the berries may be uncompromising, but the fact remains that the customer may have settled for a compromise by so readily accepting a grey Sean John scent instead of a black one. Unless he happens to suffer from "monochrome blindness", which the sales assistant correctly anticipated, and he has in fact ended up with the scent he smelt in his friend's bathroom.
Photo of Stafford town centre from ajphillips.co.uk, photo of Unforgivable from escentual.com, photo of I Am King from askmen.com, photo of squares from tileinn.co.uk, photo of Creme de Cassis from fotopedia.com