Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Armani Sensi - Sultry Sweetness Without The Swagger

There are perfume houses to which I pretty much tune out because I dislike so many scents in their line - Jean-Paul Gaultier, Hugo Boss and Givenchy are three which spring to mind - and then there are other companies where I like a fair few of their offerings, but whose image irks me slightly. Giorgio Armani and Tom Ford are in the latter camp. I associate both brands with excess testerone and slick tailoring, and Armani is the sharper-suited of the two. A wider gauge of pinstripe, if you know what I mean, or a slight sheen to the fabric. I accept that these associations with the Armani brand may be totally off, but I am picturing champagne-swilling City traders, luxury car salesmen and footballers. Ever so slightly spivvy in my imagination, whereas the Tom Ford wearer is more urbane and less conspicuous in his consumption. Yes, both brands feel very male to me, though I know their range includes scents for both genders. The problem with Armani might have a lot to do with its bombastic logo, which looks even more bombastic when affixed to underpants.

And some of Armani's bottles are a bit over the top as well, either in a tacky, blinging sort of way (Diamonds, Idole) or because they are overly embellished - or "bediggled", as my mother would have said. The Onde series with their fussy little tassles is a case in point. Give me quirky red graphics on an anti-perspirant can any day (White For Her).

Mind you, I must confess to a sneaking affection for the tasteful, if slightly pseudy opulence of the Privé Collection, with their sleek dark wood packaging topped with oversized coloured pebbles. It is a more tasteful take on Versace Crystal Noir, and also reminds me of ancient standing stones and those cute pieces of treasure in Buccaneer.

I happen to like several of the Armani Privé scents, but what troubles me about this range is the persistence with which its sales assistants push the layering concept and try to talk you into buying two bottles for the price of two. This says to me that they are either not confident about each scent being able to stand up on its own OR they are just plain greedy. But the combo of Eclat de Jasmin and Rose Alexandrie which I was nearly talked into buying costs a whopping £140.

Also, some of the products seem oddly mismatched to their marketing: the adverts for Armani Code feature insanely good looking people shooting each other smouldering looks and proffering their best profile to camera. The message is clear: this perfume gets you laid...in style...in a backless gown with crossover straps...so be sure to wear a multiway bra. But in my view none of these scents smells remotely seductive: to my nose Code is a cheap and rather pungent orange blossom, Diamonds is raspberry lolly water and Idole is a big pear note that simultaneously takes your head and your nail polish off.

So where is this anti-Armani rant all leading, you may be wondering? Well, there is an Armani scent in a simple, classic bottle, which eschews the twin extremes of brash swagger and contrived artiness, and still manages to be genuinely sultry - the now sadly discontinued Sensi.

Sensi was created in 2002 by Alberto Morillas, whose somewhat blurry creations I seem to be drawn to. Harry Fremont (of Gwen Stefani L by L.A.M.B, Juicy Couture Juicy Couture and Vera Wang Princess fame) also had a hand in this one. I don't normally like his work, as his scents tend to be on the sweet side - indeed Sensi is nudging the upper limit of my sweetness tolerance - but together they have pulled off a beauty here.

Here is the note listing from Osmoz, which classifies it as a woody oriental, my favourite sub-category of the oriental family:

Top notes: kaffir lime, acacia farnesiana, jasmine
Middle notes: cape jasmine, barley
Base notes: palisander wood, benzoin

This scent list is by no means exhaustive - I swear there's a fair old dollop of vanilla in the base.

What does Sensi smell like? Well, being a Morillas it is, as I say, pleasantly indistinct. Sensi is a warm, woody, sweetish, vanilla-ish jasmine that is very comforting - there may be a hint of spice in there to stop the sweetness becoming cloying - as for what spice, I am obviously not the right person to ask. When you first apply it there is a faint "note de Tupperware", but this plasticky quality quickly wears off. I think the benzoin may be the culprit, but the effect is short-lived in any event.

I could only find one review of this scent by a blogger, who is also one of the Sniffapalooza contributors. Unfortunately it is in Portuguese - I might have made a reasonable fist of it had it been in Spanish. How Sensi managed to live for seven(?) years almost completely under the blogosphere radar is a mystery to me.

Another fan speaks up on www.handbag.com, concerned at the decision to drop Sensi:

"I have just reached the last drop of Sensi, and I'm gutted that it's been discontinued. Can anyone recommend something similar?"

I would reply, but this time I am stumped, for there is nothing I have smelt which is like it. "Kaffir lime", "acacia farnesiana", "barley" and "palisander wood" don't show up singly all that often, never mind as a foursome! On googling kaffir lime, I note that it is an ingredient in Thai cooking, and has a bumpy texture, not unlike a brain.

As for acacia, Octavian Coifan explains how this smells in his post about the note here:

"The basic acacia scent is a mix between orange flower notes, very green and sweet accents."

"Palisander" appears to be a type of Brazilian rosewood, while barley is...well... barley is (amongst other things) a soup ingredient - one I might well experiment with now that the replacement stopper has come for my blender. I imagine that it adds neutral body to the composition, like cornflour to a casserole.

So there we have it - a unique, silky, sweetly sexy scent with highly distinctive notes - and what does Armani do? Knock it on the head, that's what it does, one can only presume because it wasn't selling. Did it have the same advertising budget behind it as all its predecessors? I have no idea. What I can say is that I have always been aware of Armani Code and She (even before I became a PPP ("Proper Perfume Person") - but I chanced upon Sensi at Stansted airport, right before the axe fell. Should have bought a bottle - though it is still knocking around on the likes of Ebay.

Ah well... I might write to the press and complain. I can see the headline now: "Sensual Sensi's Surprise Demise Censured As 'Senseless' By Incensed Scent Critic". Oh all right then, maybe not.

Photo of Sensi from productwiki.com, photo of David Beckham and Ronaldo from guardian.co.uk, photo of standing stones from discover-cornwall.co.uk, photo of Armani Code advert, kaffir limes and Armani Diamonds all from Wikimedia Commons.


lovethescents said...

Thanks for reminding me about Sensi! I had a few samples of this years ago and used them up but really should get a little decant. It's a lovely, warm, cool weather frag, IMO. I had no idea it was discontinued.

As for other Armanis, I'll have to agree with you. I love Rose Alexandrie and Bois d'Encens but that's it...

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I agree that this scent works best in cooler weather.

Just had a quick look on Ebay and the few online retailers carrying Sensi, and it is certainly holding its price. Nothing even on Ebay for under £30, and bigger bottles going for £70+.

I have a 5ml mini which is probably quite long in the tooth, as it was secondhand when I got it, but the juice is just a bit more golden in colour and richer in smell.

Anonymous said...

Point of order, fragrant madam chairwoman!

"I imagine that (barley) adds neutral body to the composition, like *cornflour to a casserole*."! Nay, nay and thrice nay!

Pearl barley is the food of the gods in soup or broth - pearl barley .... yummmmm.

Picture the soup, a northern type of Minestrone, with the cooked plump tender glistening grains of pearl barley shining amongst the colourful variety of root veg cubes: serve as is and enjoy the wholesome bite of the tender, slow-cooked ingredients. See Scotch Broth and other cold-weather treats to get the idea.

Some folk use pearl barley as a substitute for pasta or rice so as to add variety to their diet - good thinking to avoid over-dependence on one or two cereals.

The scent you review may be grand but Dinnae dis the pearl or pot barley! Try it: it's fun chasing the grains around in the soup-bowl!

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh (a fan since I was a wean)

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for springing so lyrically to the defence of pearl barley! : - ) Your reference to weans reminded me of this song I learnt aged about 12 when visiting friends in Glasgow (I expect you know it):

"Ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty-storey flat
Seven hundred hungry weans'll testify tae that
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if yer breid is plain or pan
The odds against yer reachin' it are ninety-nine tae wan."

And I should perhaps clarify my comment on pearl barley, for as a fellow Celtic Fringer - I am from "Norn Iron" myself - I am familiar with the use of barley in soups such as Scotch Broth, ie specifically in the form of individual grains. My cornflour comment was prompted by the thought of those grains coalescing during the digestive process (aka the "drydown" in our scent analogy) and adding a carbohydrate-fuelled depth to the base.

Are you attending the Penhaligon's bash tomorrow, btw? Should be good value. My luxuriantly moustachio'ed brother (who lives in Edinburgh) would have gone, but is not free that evening, unfortunately - he would have been a dead cert to win their "moustache & bow tie award"!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the song but it's a cracker! (I like "Ye cannae shove yer Granny affa bus", in similar good-humoured vein.)

Blitz the barley if you must for scent=based analogies but keep it pristine in the soup, please. (My heart fair stopped at the thought of blitzing soup with barley in it! Sacrilege.)

I hadn't seen that Penhaligon's were up to anything - I find it an awfully easy place to spend money in so I've been swerving around it and thus missed the event promotion.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

EauMG said...

I totally agree with you over Armani's image. And the perfumes and their confusing images. I never liked any of them. Diamond looks and smells beyond tacky. The Prive line drives me nuts. Why would I layer 2 "luxury" fragrances?
Saying all of this, I forgot about Sensi. I do remember using a sample, geez I guess 7 years ago, and liking it. It was soft, warm, and easy to wear.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Fear not - the integrity of pearl barley is in safe hands with me. : - )

And as you say, you probably escaped temptation by missing the Penhaligon's event...

Vanessa said...

Hi EauMG,

Glad you like the Sensi too - it seems to be one that is easy to forget, though!

Vintage Lady said...

Sensi discontinued? I still have half of a bottle, maybe less, I love it from time to time, fresh and sweet,special. Now I will keep its perfume as much as I can, knowing that perhaps I will never get another one like this.

Vanessa said...

Hi Vintage Lady!

Thanks for your comment and glad to meet another Sensi fan. I do believe the scent is discontinued in the UK at least, but sometimes the marketing strategy varies by region, as is the case with Bvlgari Black. On balance, I would use your half bottle sparingly! : - )