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.