Gianni Versace's eponymous first fragrance is a densely-woven animalic floral chypre sweetened with dried fruits, studded with spices, drunk on boozy notes and smoky with resins. On the color wheel, it would be represented by velvety russets, silky saffrons, and inky blacks.
It starts off with an intense, autumnal fruit accord, quickly transitioning to sultry, narcotic flowers. Carnation is prominent, adding a warm, clovey spice that emboldens the patchouli in the base to join its chorus. The base's smoky leather rises like a plume cloud of cigarette smoke, temporarily obscuring the beautiful face of a classic film noir femme fatale.
Top notes: Aldehydes, spice notes, fruit notes, bergamot
Heart notes: Jasmine, narcissus, orris, lily, carnation, tuberose, gardenia
Base notes: Oak moss, amber, benzoin, leather, cistus, myrrh, sandalwood, patchouli
Once the base fully envelops you, Gianni Versace becomes like a full-bodied wine, with dark fruits and spices punctuated with a long stretch of dirty, sweaty animalic leather. There's a real progression of notes, moods and affects in this perfume, and they're cumulative, leading to a sublime crescendo comparable to dramatic moments in Beethoven and Brahms concertos.
The "too-muchness" of Gianni Versace doesn't so much herald the 1980s big-shouldered perfumes as it harkens back to what made old-school, vintage perfumes so good: their distinctive personalities, the courage of their perfume convictions, their lingering atmospheres. It's an 80s version of an olfactory Orientalist fantasy from perfumery's bygone days, comparable to a Narcisse Noir (1911), a Le Numéro Cinq (1925), or a Youth Dew (1952).
Speaking of atmosphere, it was once important that a woman have one, in the form of perfume. Although it's no longer a requirement, and women are now (largely) freed from the social mandate to wear cosmetics, perfume, corsets, or high heels, for example, it's important, too, in my book, that women who choose to wear perfume, makeup and other "feminine" appurtenances are not chastised for it. To say nothing of the men who choose the same! More power to them...
It's easy to demonize perfume now in the service of a kind of olfactory puritanism — or straight up misogyny. (After all, if perfume reads as "feminine," how easy is it to then diss all perfume for its metonymic relation to things female? You know, it's frivolous, meaningless, shallow, etc.) Remember when a woman should be seen but not heard? Maybe now she should not be smelled either.
I remember one time in grad school, I attended a lecture by a big-name literary figure who shall remain nameless. It was hard for me to pay attention to him, because I was too distracted watching another big-name literary/philosophy figure, Avital Ronell, in the audience. She pulled out a mirror and carefully applied dark, dark red lipstick as the rest of us breathlessly hung onto every oracular, indecipherable utterance from The Master. To be cheeky? For subversive effect? Who knows, but I remember it after all these years.
I imagine walking into any public space wearing Gianni Versace would be a comparable move.
As one Gianni Versace lover on Fragrantica put it: "It smells like: perfume. I mean that in the best possible way, as in expensive perfume for ladies. I want more."
Gaia from The Non-Blonde has written about Gianni Versace, too.
Ad from HPrints.com