Known as the "King of the Shoulder Pads" and an influence on wild designers such as the late Alexander McQueen, Claude Montana gifted the '80s with extreme, sculptural silhouettes and shoulder pads of Lady Gaga-esque proportions. But alas, the House of Montana, founded in 1979, went kaput in 1997.
You may see versions of the Montana shoulder quoted at Urban Outfitters, but if you saw an original at a Goodwill or consignment store, you'd probably get in front of a mirror and scream at a friend to check it out while you held it up to you and laughed your head off. (Or, if you live in the Mission in San Francisco, you'd buy it and wear it ironically.) But Parfum de Peau? You can wear it (in earnest) if you're daring. I definitely plan on it.
I had seen the sculptural Montana perfume bottle before and was curious about it, but now, thanks to my perfume pal Heather from London, I have an EDT sample of the unreformulated stuff. (Thanks, Heather!)
Top notes: Peach, cassis, pepper, green note, plum, cardamom
Heart notes: Ginger, Rose, Tuberose, Jasmine, Ylang-ylang, carnation, sandalwood
Base notes: Patchouli, vetiver, civet, castoreum, amber, musk, olibanum (frankincense)
Parfum de Peau starts off with tangy green notes, ripe cassis and peach, laid over a veil of pepper and spices (cardamom). The unspecified green note almost has a green pepper smell, an odd note to marry with ripe fruit! Spicy ginger, sandalwood and carnation join classic florals (rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose) to the divine base which lasts for hours and evolves into a true "parfum de peau" (skin scent/perfume).
Depending on when I sniff my arm, Parfum de Peau gives me spicy fruit, an intense rose, or the amazing spicy-woody-powdery, animalic base that makes this perfume more of a Floriental to me than a fruity chypre as the H&R guide classifies it. (Or it's some hybrid of both.) Its animalic sweetness, warmth and sillage recalls Ungaro's Diva to me.
What makes this fruity concoction sexy rather than innocent or cloying is its animalic nature. In a recent post on the awesome blog Indie Perfumes, Lucy recounted an amazing talk she attended given by perfumer and Scent Opera creator Christophe Ludamiel. Commenter Leah reminds her that they learned that cardamom is often used in masculine scents because it's redolent of sweat/B.O., and cassis can come across as urinous, i.e. civet-like. So you can imagine that since both of those notes are in Parfum de Peau and are joined with the more obvious animalics castoreum and civet — this is not a perfume to put on before you go to church on Sunday.
Parfum de Peau represents everything the '80s stands for in the popular imagination: it's loud, daring, and cacophanous. But you know what? It's also incredibly beautiful and I've had it on my mind since I put it on last night. Even though the version I have is an EDT, I can smell its subtle woody-ambery-powderiness on my skin more than 18 hours later.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: if we can embed vintage fashion tropes into modern clothes (skinny silhouettes, strong shoulders, etc.), why not incorporate vintage scents into our everyday life? I'll let you know if anyone tells me I smell powdery, soapy, or like an old lady — three responses I get from lay people who find a scent unfamiliar or too retro — but hopefully someone will ask, "What is that sexy-ass perfume you're wearing?" A girl can dream.
(Please note — there has been a reformulation, so if you're on the lookout for the vintage on eBay, make sure it's not in the bottle with the white cap. Unless someone corrects me, it seems that the vintage is either in the blue swirly bottle shown in the ad above [as a big bottle or a mini], or the mini has a gold or black cap. Anyone?)