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January 12, 2011



Why do I keep picturing Don Draper and Roger Sterling when I read these ads? (And Peggy in the background fuming!)

Thanks for sharing these--hilarious, though I often find today's perfume ads, especially the TV ones, just as dumb (though perhaps not quite as blatant).


I'm grinding my teeth at those blasted ads. No wonder I continue to ignore the dumb things! They're not really any better now.

BUT. Bill Blass, the perfume, sounds like it would be right up my alley. Off to ebay... you realize that this is your fault, right?


I once worked in place where the boss was a clone of Bill Blass (by the sound of it). The culture for women was: dress like a woman, act like a man. This guy enjoyed working with assertive (even agressive women). He promoted them and fancied himself a feminist. But there would be no promotion for women who wore jeans to work, or didn't shave their legs or under their arms, or get their hair coloured and styled every four weeks. You had to work full time and he didn't have a lot of patience with family commitments. When I left the organisation, there was only one senior woman (out of a group of about a dozen) with sufficient courage to leave her hair naturally grey. She left soon after me. The weird thing was that other than her, all of these well-paid and highly educated women seemed quite happy working there.

The perfume sounds nice, but the ad puts me right off. Galbanum and pineapple sounds like a unique combination ... ?


Nothing's changed since the 70's. We espouse this stuff and still think it's cheeky.

As for the perfume, I'm interested.


God those ads are infuriating. I won't even say the perfume sounds interesting, I feel the need to protest/boycott Bill Blass.


SniffingAround: If Don and Roger were still doing
their thing in the 80s, I could see them coming up with this hokum. But maybe they wouldn’t be able to come up with it without all of Peggy’s focus groups? She’s sleeping with the enemy!

Mals: The ads are laughable to me, but infuriating
nevertheless. I get embarrassed for the segment of mankind (emphasis on the man) that needs to control women like this to feel better about themselves.

Anne: What exactly did your former boss mean by “like
a man?" Gender is so crazy. Those very “manly” traits have gotten me into a lot of trouble at various jobs — feeling entitled to be rewarded for work, speaking
up, etc. As for the Bill Blass perfume, it’s a nice floral with a touch of sweetness,  quite understated for its time. I think I prefer Scherrer II’s pineapple (I really need to review that soon), and Colony is my all-time favorite pineapple perfume. It’s goooorgeous.

Joan: Sex(ism) certainly sells!

Elisa: I know, this ad sticks in my craw in a big
way. Blass died in 2002, so no need to protest/boycott him! I’m sure there are a million other instances of this kind of baloney going on right now. Just open Vogue or (God forbid) Cosmopolitan magazine!



Bill Blass actually thinks I care about what he likes? BWAHAHAHAHAHHAH!


I'm going to try that Colony. I've just included a wee sample in my latest order with The Perfumed Court. I guess it will not be vintage, but it sounds very much worth a try anyway. I love your review - absolutely fascinating!


Hi Anne, I think what you'll get from the Perfumed Court is the 1984 reissued Colony, which from what I heard, is a very faithful rendition of the original. I hope you love it! Let me know...

Although Andy Tauer lists Que Sais-Je? as a top 10 must-smell-before-you-die fragrance, I think Colony's more beautiful.


Hi Patty, re: "Bill Blass actually thinks I care..." Yeah, I know. I don't know what's more obnoxious, his lists, or his damn smug mug! I'm trying to think of a contemporary ad that is as bad as this...I'm sure I'm just not thinking hard enough...

Mals: I forgot to respond to your blaming me for being a pusher. What can I say..? ;-)


Those ads made me mad back then and they still do! However, Bill Blass is no longer with us and the perfume is wonderful - I have been thinking about getting some recently!


It's true, Flora, he's no longer with us, but that ad sure is! I wanted to mention in the post how his designs belie the sexism of his ad. From what I've read about (or remember), they were quintessentially American designs, i.e. unrestrictive, etc. As for the perfume, yes, get some!

Tag My Friends

Nice medium fragrance. Not too sweet or heavy, very feminine. I always have a bottle on hand!


Hey, just because you can get someone else to do the heavy lifting, doesn't mean you aren't a feminist! Whoever put that idea into women's heads did women a disservice. After all, patriarchy's had no qualms about getting women to do all the dirty work for six millennia, and I have yet to hear an apology for that. Anytime someone offers to help me to accomplish things in any way, I will graciously accept the offer of help. It has no effect on my sex chromosomes, after all, and it doesn't diminish my strength in any way either.

That said, I remember that Bill Blass ad and I remember Bill Blass, and I never thought of his ad as sexist. What he "dislikes" about women is exactly what I would dislike about men, too--it's what anyone would find unattractive about anyone else, I think. Consider it, seriously: you're on a date with a hot looking guy, and he does nothing but tell you all about his workout regime and "healthy" strict diet (so that anything you order off the menu brands you as unhealthy and undisciplined, as he's just announced); does your crossword in pen so you can't correct his errors when you want to have a go at it; acts like a snob about literature as if its quality could be determined by price; and is so vain he can't risk mussing himself in a little rain and can't stop looking at himself in the mirror. Of course, the topper for me would be that he simply wouldn't buy perfume (another snobbery in my opinion). That's one sucky date, isn't it?

And what Blass likes about women--I just don't agree he's on about the same things you are. The ability to get dressed in 15 minutes and be attractive--hell, that's just code for "spontaneous". A woman who appears to be listening even if she isn't, well, that's just good manners and kindness (because it's not realistic to think someone will listen to you all.the.time.). If she loves a good laugh--she has a good sense of humour, that's necessary! As for the white wine line, you aren't old enough to remember when "white wine" was the acceptable drink for women--it was assumed that all women would only order that and nothing else because all else was unfeminine. Any woman strong enough to insist on making her own choice was just someone unwilling to be restricted by what others thought to be "appropriate". Great dancer, great eater, and unsentimental = great date or companion for any social event. As for loving clothes and not talking about them, hell, the man designed clothes for a living, he shouldn't have to be forced to talk about them after hours, too.
I just don't think he's showing anything but a taste for someone who is fun to be with, not self absorbed, and attractive. That's someone we all want to be with, no? It's certainly my criteria for a man. Probably Blass', too, as that was his persuasion.

And I remember what a lovely man he was, the way he designed great, comfortable, really flattering clothing for women. There was nothing woman hatin' about his designs, that's for sure, and whenever I saw Blass interviewed or read what he wrote about design and style, his respect and appreciation for women came through loud and clear. The same cannot be said for many of the well known designers today.


Hi Aurumgirl, setting aside the things Bill Blass likes or dislikes (which I discuss in this post as problematic in and of themselves), the larger problem to me is the ad's paternalistic tone.

A macho, critical-looking man presides over a woman and basically dictates what she should and shouldn't do (in the guise of his likes/dislikes). He has an identity — she is just a mannequin to mold in the shape of his desires. He's the subject. She's the object. (The whole Pygmalion myth of women as shapeable clay/objects is definitely a part of the fashion industry's sexist mythology. How many women fashion designers have there been in comparison?) Fashion designer dictates; women follow.

Yes, what BB dislikes is what most people would dislike in men, too, but context is everything. In a sexist society, a man criticizing a man is very different from a man criticizing a woman. Particularly about weight issues. What this ad is selling, as much as it's selling perfume, is the ideology of sexism, of men telling women who they should be. Considering it came after the defining decade of women's liberation, it's particularly gross.

Part of what the feminist movement was all about was freeing women up from patriarchal ideas of what they should and shouldn't be. That's why I think this ad is devious. It disguises its paternalism in the language of liberation. Even if some of the things he likes sound freeing, this ad still places him as the arbiter of how women should behave. Sounds like the same ol', same ol' to me...

(On a side note, looking at this ad again, it reminds me of this amazing scene in Hitchcock's Vertigo when Scottie is trying to remake a woman in the guise of a woman he once loved. He takes her to a salon to color her hair just so, and forces her to wear the clothes this woman wore...The cramped space this mannequin occupies in the ad is very much like that scene in the salon. She's trapped in the middle of his desire/ideas of what she should be.)


We'll have to agree to disagree here, as I think the context also has to take into consideration the business of selling perfume and all the tropes one would find in visual and print media to sell the juice. I think Blass' ad was just another way of presenting the "ideal" woman image his customer would find herself in, identify with, and then use as the signifier behind her perfume choice. As far as the "ideal" he puts forth, she's the woman many of us feminists still want to be (and I would even say, most adults would want to have those personality traits, as they are all about self-determination and fulfillment). Yes, he is stating his own preferences in his ad--but he's upfront about it (and I would say self-deprecating about it, too) in a way other perfumers were not. He was just working a twist on the traditional and expected, the successful tried-and-true method of selling perfume to women. Because, historically and even today, if a perfume did not sell to women, it simply would not sell. And Blass wanted his perfume to sell.

There is a sexism there, sure: but it is definitely not as subtle and powerful as what's typical for then and for now in media. In fact, the Ma Griffe ad is way more patronizing and misogynist than Old Bill. And by the way, that's him in the ad, dressing a model before she heads off down the runway during a fashion show. He's not really being any more critical than any other fashion designer with a show--every detail counts and the models must look exactly as the designer imagines them to look. You can say he's a Pygmalian fashioning his ideal mate (quite an interesting feat for a gay man, no?) or he's designing clothes for a certain kind of woman out there, there's a certain woman out there he wants wearing his clothes. Don't all fashion designers have an ideal client in mind, even the female designers? Don't you think Chanel fussed the same way, or Madame Gres, when they sent their models out to sell the clothes to buyers who'd arrived to see the collection? All these other nuggets of information have to factor into the overall context for me: as a dyed-in-the-wool, life long feminist, I just can't leave all that other information out of the whole package when I interpret it. It's not so black and white in meaning when there is all this other "stuff" filling out the subtext.

As for Scotty in Vertigo--have you ever read Laura Mulvey's famous feminist film theory essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" on Hitchock, in which she writes about Hitch's heroes like Scotty and heroines like Madeline? I agree with Laura: Hitch wanted us to think about a lot more than just the plot. Like George Bernard Shaw and Ovid before her (and before Hitchcock, too) all of them were writing about Pygmalian as a figure to criticize, not emulate. I'm not sure old Bill Blass would have wanted to willingly place himself in that position, given what the classics and the moderns have had to say about that story from the very beginning.

This is certainly the most fun blog about perfume, and the most enlightening and enlightened writing I've come across about the subject--so thanks for writing, and thanks for the conversation. You've given me tons to think about about a mutual love, as well as tons to think about in terms of ideas.


Aurumgirl: Love a reader who name-checks Laura Mulvey! Glad you feel engaged enough to respond with passion, and do come back and put in your two cents whenever you feel moved to do so. That's one of my favorite parts of keeping this blog up, hearing folks weighing in, even if it's to disagree...


Clearly this is exactly what I call a terrific blog article! Do you this portal for your private purposes exclusively or you basically have it as a source of income?


Hi Fred. This blog has been a labor of love. Trust me, Ive derived no income from it, and its an expensive hobby to collect perfume! However, I do have a book coming out next fall. Thanks for stopping by!

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