There is a golden rule in marketing: never mix genres! It will only make your product more difficult to sell. It is not much of a creative rule as if this rule were to be followed blindly we would be very bored. However as far as selling the product this rule may be right. Enter Givenchy Insensé. I remember it as an unusual masculine fragrance that was quickly discontinued and I recently found a cheap mini online. I wanted to revisit it for historical reasons as it was one of the first mass market floral masculines and a massive market failure. It was eventually discontinued and a flanker Insensé Ultramarine took its place centre stage spawning its own flankers.
Insensé is not a bad perfume, on the contrary it smells interesting and in 1993, when it was launched, it was very different. Wearing it today I realised that it stands out as an example where the golden rule of marketing crushed a rather good product. Insensé juggles not with two but with three genres. It opens with a beautiful soapy, fleshy floral accord. The flower is vague and general, slightly green and very soapy, almost feminine. That part is my favourite because it has a nice cool texture and it feels complete. However what follows in the heart is a more conventional aromatic fougere. The flowers calm down and play second fiddle to lavender and citrus. The composition is already missing in character but gains in conformity. Things wouldn’t be so bad if development stopped there. It isn’t as bright and happy as the original YSL Jazz but it isn’t bad either. Then moving to the base Insensé shows the most unforgivable vice, insecurity! It becomes a woody ozonic fragrance that reminds me on of the least memorable Calvin Klein releases, Truth for Men. An undefinable white wood with an astringent ozonic quality devour all the beautiful elements of the former stages. It has crossed the fine line where velvet becomes brillo.
Insensé didn’t go well in the markets and next year its flanker, Insensé Ultramarine was released. The violently blue color of the juice inside the bottle gives you a pretty good idea of what it smells like. What they did is take the base of Insensé and build up from there: more astringent aquatic notes, the volume turned to the max. You have to try very hard to identify a single note that will remind you of a natural ingredient. It seems as if the people responsible for this (because Insensé Ultramarine was not officially signed by a perfumer, unlike the original Insensé) took a trip to the household cleaning aisle and added equal amounts of any detergent available to the original composition. The opening of Ultramarine is capable of clearing sinuses, even drilling holes. It is the only fragrance that has ever induced real headaches to me. Surprisingly it did a lot better in the market. Where Insensé got discontinued Ultramarine spawned several flankers and ten years later achieved the ultimate flanker feat: the only cross-gender flanker to my knowledge, Insensé Ultramarine for Her. And the reason for this is probably the fact that it wasn’t insecure. Where the original tried to hide its floral qualities, Ultramarine flaunts its artificial causticity. And the markets applauded its determination.
As the audiences became more accustomed to masculine florals Givenchy decided in 2007 to re-release Insensé in the more exclusive Les Mythiques series. I haven’t smelled this new version to see if Insensé has manned up enough to proudly flaunt its feminine side but I certainly hope so. Ironically the French word “insensé” has nothing to do with incense. It translates as insane, senseless, a quality rather contradictory to the composition’s wish to balance everything and please everyone.
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Notes from Fragrantica: aldehydes, black currant, lavender, mandarin orange, bergamot, lemon, basil, magnolia, lily-of-the-valley, iris, fir.
Notes from my nose: soap, flowers, lavender, citrus, white woods, ozonic notes
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