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
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.