Modern Trends in Perfume – Part III: Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?

With Sugar, Dessert, and Eccentric Extremes under our belt, the one of the two categories of modern perfumes is what I call (when feeling polite) the Clean category. (The final one, the Wood or Oud group, will be discussed in Part IV.) but is useful to touch upon briefly here as it’s a sharp counterbalance to fragrances that seek to evoke perhaps no actual perfume but rather, the soapy, water smell of freshness.

Fresh and Clean. One of the most popular of the current trends in perfume are scents that are light, crisp, clean and fresh. I credit the Japanese designer, Issey Miyake, with spearheading this trend in 1992 when he launched L’Eau d’Issey, an old favorite of mine. Categorized as a floral aquatic, Fragrantica states that its main accords are: floral, aquatic, ozonic, fresh, white floral and rose. L’Eau d’Issey reflects the designer’s ethos of clean, minimalistic lines from the sleekly triangular frosted glass bottle with its silver point to the intentional evocation of water and transparency. As Fragrantica notes:

Issey Miyaké thought about creating a perfume that was “as clear as spring water”, combining the spray of a waterfall, the fragrance of flowers, and the scent of springtime forest. L’Eau d’Issey achieved an enormous popularity, especially in the United States in the 1990s. L’Eau d’Issey is an aquatic floral scent with transparent notes of lotus, freesia and cyclamen and juicy melon. The middle note of peony, lily and carnation reveals the perfume’s character. The end note is a refined woody scent with the notes of cedar, sandal, musk and amber. It was created in 1992 by Jacques Cavallier.


Personally, I’m not sure I fully agree with “refined woody scent” and the warm base-notes that are listed. I smell a crisp, watery floral that is incredibly elegant and yet, clean and fresh even in its final dry-down. True, that finish is a lot warmer than its beginning, but it’s more like the subtle whisper of thin silk, not the warm, thicker, more enveloping cashmere that I personally and mentally attribute to notes like “sandal, musk and amber.”

The incredible popularity of L’Eau d’Issey and of many of the similarly understated, fresh, crisp scents which Miyake subsequently put out. undoubtedly influenced Giorgio Armani. Like Miyake, Armani is a designer whose aesthetic leans towards the understated, clean, minimalistic and elegant. In 1995, he launched Acqua di Gio with aquatic, floral, “fresh” accords.

Now, I need to state at the onset that I loathe Acqua di Gio. Yes, loathe. To me, you’re paying a lot of money to smell like laundry detergent. I am not a fan. That cannot be said enough times. I don’t care what its notes are supposed to be; for me, it’s verboten.  Adding insult to injury for me is the fact that it’s damn hard to escape the pervasive influence of that bloody perfume! Whatever the popularity of L’Eau d’Issey, Acqua di Gio has surpassed it many thousands of times over. Everyone seems to wear it. Rollerballs of the damn thing are routinely tossed into shopping bags at Neiman Marcus as a Gift with Purchase. Other brands have attempted (alas, successfully) to replicate it constantly in some way or another. Giorgio Armani essentially threw wide open the flood gates to what I personally consider as “The Age of Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener” fragrances.

Some of Acqua di Gio’s (many unfortunate) offspring are similarly aquatic, fresh, clean, crisp and/or soapy. For example: Kenzo’s L’Eau, Bath and Body Works’ Fresh Cucumber, Bobbi Brown’s Bath, the clean, unimposing and not particularly long-lasting Omnia Crystalline by Bvlgari, Calvin Klein’s Eternity Aqua, Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Eau de Lagons, Davidoff’s Cool Water, Gucci’s Flora Eau Fraiche, and Hermès’ Jardins en Méditerranée by the famous perfume nose Jean-Claude Ellena. But perhaps few things underscore my point more than the brand that is actually entitled “Clean“! With perfumes named Warm Cotton, Fresh Laundry, Shower Fresh and Lather Clean, they are the ultimate embodiment of the trend away from perfume and towards the …. er… all natural? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend $69 for a 2.14 oz bottle merely to smell like a Fresh Shower. I will just take that bloody shower for the few cents that each soapy outing towards cleanliness may cost me.

As I have said repeatedly, perfume is subjective and personal. One person’s poison is another person’s Holy Grail. And that is completely normal. But since this is my blog, we shall speak no more of these vile things and move the discussion to the most recent (and perhaps most upcoming and popular) new trend: Oud or Aoud fragrances. You can read all about that in Part IV.  Until next time!

For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part IV, “Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?,” go here.