It was the decade of Dynasty (1981- 1989), Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984 - 1995), Falcon Crest (1981 - 1990) and other rich-people porn for aspirational types. And it got off to one hell of a smelly start.
You know it. You may love it. But once you put it on, you won't be able to get away from it, and those around you may hate you forever. That's right — I'm talking about Giorgio. Giorgio of Beverly Hills.
In the late '70s, Gale and Fred Hayman* decided they needed an exclusive fragrance for their clothing boutique on Rodeo Drive. This exclusive fragrance, ironically (or, more likely, intentionally), ended up scenting every magazine, mall, big-haired salad eater, and Gucci bag-carrying Texas** debutante in the 80s like the "airborne toxic event" that threatens the characters in Don DeLillo's surreal fantasia on consumerism and suburbia in White Noise.
This airborne toxic event Giorgio starts off with a bright hit of green, followed by a massive synthetic-smelling accord of fruit notes + orange blossom + every cloyingly sweet facet that could be wrenched from Giorgio's florals: tuberose, gardenia, ylang-ylang, and jasmine. There's something kind of pleasant*** about the powdery and slightly rich (amber/vanilla), musky and sandalwood dry down, but you can't really experience it because the tuberose-gardenia-fruit monster stuns your nose into submission.
Top notes: Green note, bergamot, fruit note, orange blossom, aldehyde
Heart notes: Tuberose, gardenia, ylang-ylang, orchid
Base notes: Sandalwood, cedarwood, musk, amber, moss, vanilla
Giorgio doesn't really develop so much as Enter the Building and stage a sit-in demanding to be noticed: inert, bright, soapy, floral, and in-your-face sweet. It’s sunny and pretty in the way an immaculately made-up face photoshopped within an inch of its life in a magazine is pretty, or the way a bubble-headed beauty who will not stop smiling but who has absolutely nothing interesting to say is pretty. There is no movement, multidimensionality, or life inside.
Giorgio is always described as a "big" scent, like many 80s scent bombs, but it's not Giorgio's bigness or boldness that bothers me. I like the perverse Poison (in small doses). And what some say is Giorgio's reference scent, Fracas, is as alive as a carnivorous plant. It’s Giorgio's inorganic obtrusiveness that offends. And it gives me an almost instant headache.
I may just be unable to objectively assess Giorgio’s aesthetic merits because there was a time growing up in Texas that I simply could not get away from it. It arrived with every fashion magazine that came in the mail in scent-strip form. (It was, in fact, the first perfume that advertised itself not only through an image and a tagline, but also by actually smelling up the room.) You couldn't go to the mall without being inadvertantly sprayed with it. And on top of everything, its celebration of "exclusivity" (it's from Rodeo Drive!) turns me off, and its name makes me chuckle. (If you've ever watched soap operas, it's as if Giorgio is being positioned as the "exotic" European dude who ends up stirring up trouble for the townsfolk in Port Charles.)
Giorgio set the volume way up (hence all the references to "loud" scents), and other scents followed suit (among them Obsession, the aforementioned Poison, Amarige, et al). It actually makes sense that by the 90s, our exhausted noses were proffered androgynous office scents that had wiped off all their fuschia lipstick and purple eye shadow and retired their sequined evening gowns.
Improbably, Giorgio is still available, but to me, it smells as dated as Robin Leach's sign-off sounds: "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams!"
*Apparently, Giorgio's phenomenal success coincided with the breakup of the Gale and Fred Hayman marriage.
** Apologies to Texas, but this is where I grew up.
*** I wanted to say something nice, and this is all I could come up with.
****Perfumes got so strong/loud in the 80s that New York restaurant owners were putting signs in their windows that said, "Please no wearers of Passion, Giorgio or Poison." Ha! (This tidbit from Susan Irvine's Perfume: The Creation and Allure of Classic Fragrances.)