Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jean Paul Gaultier Classique: fragrance review & history

Uncanningly similar to the dressmaker's dummy bottle of Shocking by Schiaparelli (1935), a powerful and iconic animalic oriental of a long lost era, fashion's enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier began his career in perfumes with his own -originally eponymous (1993), later renamed Classique- Schocking copy bottle, that hid a floriental of intense sweetness and powderiness. The inspiration for Gaultier was his beloved and -we surmiss- glamorous grandmother's vanity with its vats of face powder and nail polish remover smelling of acetone. Interestingly the perfume however plays with this perception of femininity in nuanced ways which defy an accurate transliteration. Despite all that, it's a perfume I can't really stomach, but it deserves its own analysis.

Eye-Catching Looks for Classique
But it is the bottle and presentation that will go down in history, originally in a pink metal corset, later given a frosted glass costume over the smooth glass body of the bottle, so to speak; and then given all kind of variations in all the colours and patterns of the rainbow for limited editions and summer flankers. The box gives an avant-garde touch; like shipped cargo, functional and brown-beige, while the bottle is encased inside the box in a metal can, "like the ones for cat food at the supermarket", as Gaultier put it. Meow....
The commercials were equally eye-catching and memorable, with variations on the theme of femininity, conceived by master image creator Jean Baptiste Mondino to the soundtrack of Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma, as sung by Maria Callas.

Interestingly, if we're to examine the feminist and cultural subtext of the perfume visuals, the Jean Pauls Gaultier commercials themselves have become markedly tamer and tamer as the years went by, reflecting a more sedate "sexy" view of femininity, a conservative retake on the mistress which marks her man's memory with her perfume (alongside her corset and high heels; a panoply of restrictive femme gear that places woman on the pedestral of an object) Contrast with the eclectic bunch of sui generis characters sharing one common element: their love for JPG perfume from two decades ago. Or the apogee of quirkiness in a gay gender playing game in the combined commercials for Le Male and Classique from 2002.
Even the models were quirkier looking back then (Eve Salvail with her trademark shaved head, Kristen McMenamy with her irregular features...to the predictable beauty of Michelle Buswell) and we're just talking about nothing further than the 1990s.

Alice Classique commercial from 1995

Le Diner Classique commercial from 1997

Classique & Le Male commercial from 2002

Scent Description
The opening of Classique is rich in mandarin orange, peach, plum and cassis (a synthetic base that recaretes a berry/currant note), sherbety and sparkling-waxy thanks to the sheen provided by decanal (aldehyde C10), a characteristic element in the archetype No.5. The metaphor of nail polish is made through benzyl acetate, possessing jasmine-like and pear-drops notes. The heart is predictably rosy like the hue of the juice inside, with powerful cinnamic roses and damascones (synthesized molecules that give off intensely rosy-fruity tonalities) given an even fatter nuance by the inclusion of orange flower and ylang ylang, indolic and lushly sweet. A faint hint of spice is accounted by lily and ginger, but it's weak to really characterise the composition as a spicy floral; it resolutely stays within the sweet fruity floral with a wink to the floriental direction.
It is imperative that one loves powdery nuances in fragrances to like Classique, as the quite powdery base is built on a contrast of woody-amber Ambrox with vanillin, the two building to epic proportions of  intense diffusion. A little orris note opens an interesting discourse of dryness in the base, beneath the amber-vanilla there is a musky-earthy footnote with a hint of animal; perhaps an ironic meta-comment on Shocking itself by perfumer Jacques Cavallier? Not enough, hidden under the syrup...

Le Boudoir Classique commercial from 2007

L'Appartment Classique commercial from 2009

The Perfumer's References & the Zeitgeist
Cavallier did cite classics, such as Chanel No.5, within the formula but interjected modern elements as well resulting in what proved to be a contemporary commercial hit. You might be forgiven for thinking Classique is va-va-voom material, only it is so for those people who can't help being a bit too flamboyant. For all its intensity and almost cloying fruitiness, it escaped the seal of "powerhouse" that Dior's Poison or CK Obsession bore in the previous decade. The era was ripe for a disruptive aesthetic so  the blinding paleness of aquatics and the surypy element of "fruities" led this dance.

JPG's Classique consolidated its place by playing upon an idea that had already found its culmination in Lancome's Tresor in 1990: The peachy rosiness of Sophia Grosjman's modern classic had been the building block upon which a thousand beauty products from lotions and hair products to fine fragrance and fabric softener followed. Tresor's formula has plenty to admire in, but perhaps it's too ubiquitous to claim one's own. But whereas Tresor achieves the perilous balance of naturally lush bosom kept under decorum thanks to its solid perfume structure, Classique for all its rosy girlishness shows rather too much nipple for my taste.


  1. It was fun watching the commercials, I agree that the later ones are much more sedate (and a bit boring). I like the opera music in the later ones though!
    Myself I much prefer Fleur de Male to Classique. I'm not sure if FdM have actually been discontinued? I still see bottles in the stores here.

  2. MariaA19:14

    I didn't particularly like this one and it lasted like 10 minutes on my skin. I tried again and again over the years but the result was the same. THe male edition is gorgeous though!! I adore Jacques Cavallier for his Kenzo Jungle le Tigre which was my signature scent for years . Is it true LV grabbed him to be their in house parfumeur?

  3. noetic owl19:35

    I did enjoy this scent but was much more in love with the male version which to me could definitely be worn by a female. My mum loved it so much she must have bought about 5 or more bottles for my dad over the years.

  4. Eva,

    from reading the comments, I realized that readers were led to think I actually like this one. In fact not only don't I like it, I absolutely find it heavy and cloying. But it has interesting things to dissect all the same and deserved its own analysis. I have now added a line to showcase my opinion clearly.

    I do like Fleur du Male myself as well; it's closer to Farhenheit numeric something, which I don't quite see any more. I think that one and this one (both Kurkdjian if not mistaken) are rather at the back, not prominently showcased; I wonder whether it's really old stock. Someone might chime in and let us know for sure.

  5. Maria,

    as I said to Eve above, I really really don't like it either. :-O Just because I devote space to it, doesn't mean I consider it really good. I have added a line to showcase this. But it is interesting. I find it has nuclear super-power on me, but I'm talking about the original EDT, not the light flankers/summery editions (which are fleeting, just as you say).

    I do admire Cavallier's work, he's a best-selling "author", so he knows full well what's expected from him. He is indeed signed by LV. I look forward to what he makes for them; a leather scent, as per my info.

  6. Noetic,

    again, as said above, I don't like Classique, I find it too loud, too sweet, too invasive, not refined. But it is interesting in some ways.

    Le Male is so sweet I think women and gay men are its natural targets: but then its whole raison d'etre was gayness from the get go and all the campaigns etc., wasn't it? Not that it reflects on the straight men who wear it nevertheless (Dykes wore Drakkar Noir in the 1980s for instance, so....)

  7. noetic owl10:44

    ha! ha! so funny that you mentioned Drakkar because my husband who hates fragrance (he has really bad seasonal allergies and most conventional stuff gives him nausea and headaches) bought a bottle of Drakkar when he overheard some women say that it would make them do anything with a man :) He actually wore it when we were first dating and it is true that it made me swoon! I did not know that it was popular with the lesbian crowd! I can't wait to share that tid-bit with my hubby! Nowadays he wears nothing but soap and water :(

  8. MariaA11:30

    Thank you for the Cavallier info Elena!! Leather scent you say?!?! mmm that sounds yummy!!!
    Still trying to find my jungle le tigre's replacement without any luck!
    Yes I absolutely agree with you, you don't have to like something to write about it, it might be the other way around!!!

  9. Noetic,

    LOL!! I think it's an 1980s reference though. He should be safe by now. Soap and water isn't that bad; you can cherish his own personal scent. (some men smell delicious by themselves!)

  10. Maria,

    apparently LV is very serious about it, they have landed on Cabrais in the Grasse region and are furtively smelling things from the laboratories of naturals (and synths) there.
    Jungle le Tigre is quite individual; don't think you will find anything alike. :-( Perhaps see if there's any L'Elephant though remaining on stockists, that one was also pretty good and unique.

    I think some of the best writing can come from things we don't like (like Secretions Magnifiques, that review on this on these pages is quite special to me). Classique doesn't produce that strong a feeling in me, though, I just know I can't wear it and will never will.


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