It is strange to think that there was once a time when you could pretty much recognize what perfume someone was wearing because there was only a limited number of perfumes that they could wear. If they weren’t wearing one of the Lynx anti-perspirant sprays (now Axe), a Superdrug cheapie like Hai Karate or Brut, an Adidas number, or a Sure deodorant stick – actually quite a beautiful smell like a tribute to Shalimar – then the boys at school would definitely have on something you knew by heart – it could be Jazz, Kouros, or Paco Rabanne. There simply weren’t that many fragrances around: at the local department store (there was no ‘online’), each couture house – there were no visible independent brands, nor heritage Gentleman’s apothecaries in my town either – had a limited number of creations on their roster that you came to either love or reject. At Chanel you had Monsieur (a favourite) and Antaeus – too hard-bodied and intent for me for the time; at Givenchy, Gentleman – a perfume I fell in love with – and Monsieur, which was just too civet-lemon and ‘elderly’ for me at the time, and which nobody else at school would ever have considered wearing for a moment either for fear of smelling like a nonce. Each stand at Beatties, the department store that my mum worked for in Jaeger upstairs – had one or two fragrances for men only; at Rabanne you had the signature fragrance that everybody loved (including me), and the wonderful Sport – which I reviewed the other day. Armani had one – Pour Homme, my first fragrance love; Dior had none that I was aware of initially until Fahrenheit came along and rocked the masculine universe ( I went crazy for that one too). There was Quorum; Polo (my brother’s). Aramis had its legendary eponymous scent of wannabe oligarch – which some boys said the girls loved on them and which I tried once or twice but found too sour; and then, around 1986 or so in the UK the company brought out the far more preferable Tuscany.
1986 was also the year that Merchant Ivory released their masterpiece, multiple Academy Award winning picture A Room With A View: a beautiful, romantic adaption of E.M Forster’s novel that showed Florence and the surrounding landscape in Tuscany at its very finest – although secretly, all I cared about really was Maurice
– the author’s posthumously published novel on homosexual love that Merchant Ivory also adapted and which in truth was one of my main impetuses for wanting to go to Cambridge ( I had to believe that love was possible for me, and this looked like an impossibly romantic place that I would find it. The importance of this film in my own personal life story can never be overstated).
Whereas a lot of period pictures these days featuring British stately homes and the calcified upper classes often fall into ersatz Costume Department replication and whitewashed colonial nostalgia, there is something very different about Merchant Ivory films that put them in a league of their own (the incisive dialogue; the perfect but not overly laboured-over visuals and exquisitely perfect details in every frame; the brilliant acting, the sweep of their productions) – that makes their films incomparable to any other literary adaptations of their ilk. A Room With A View, with its panoramic Florentine vistas; its gentle humour and soaring operatic arias, was certainly enough to make any fifteen year old boy’s heart swoon alongside Helena Bonham Carter over Julian Sands in a field of swaying poppies. It also made me start thinking about going to Italy.
As a gaunt, vegetarian eighteen year old with literary pretensions – waxing very lyrically over Wuthering Heights, Keats and Tennessee Williams plays during my English literature classes (pictured, above left), after years of increasingly unbearable tension, I finally came out one evening to my friend Sarah – who took this picture of me and her brother and his girlfriend of the time – while washing the dishes on a Friday night at an Italian restaurant in Solihull (where we had part time student jobs making starters and desserts and cleaning and were insulted and shouted at by stereotypical mobster-like Italians back in the kitchen). It was one of those situations. She had had a crush on me, and was also going out with Darren, who I liked, (and who, it turned out, miraculously also had a crush on me, to my rapturous astonishment when she told me as we were constructing a shrimp salad or overpriced vinaigrette avocado). Realizing it was impossible for her, she had the generosity to introduce us to each other and thus I had my first proper falling in love and appalling heartbreak, all in secret, all during my entrance exams, with the exception of my few loyal confidantes.
That summer, she and I also went to Rome, Tuscany and Umbria, arguing quite a bit and irritating each other (in later years we have failed to meet up, one of the reasons being that she once chose to say to me ‘I prefer to remember you as you were’, something I will never forgive her for), but I do still have good memories; I see us in my mind’s eye rushing into the flocks of pigeons in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican like lovers in a Robert Doisneau photograph; passionately alive; seeing the cypresses and hills at San Gimignano; and deciding that if I did get into Cambridge, which was all I could think about at that point, I would soon be dropping German with its impossible grammatical rules and noun endings and study Italian instead, eventually studying in Florence; and then living a truly magical year in Rome.
Tuscany the perfume, was an obvious fit. At that time I was into wearing loose linen white or cream-coloured shirts (as was D, up in Norwich, although of course I didn’t know him then; but he would also spend his Saturday afternoons cycling around the antique shops and second hand clothing stores, reading poetry in church graveyards and buying collarless grandad shirts). Around the release of Tuscany, there was a definite bifurcation of culture in the UK in terms of music, taste: everything, and he was definitely in my tribe. The charts had been a smorgasbord for many years prior to 1985; Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen could all have top ten hits, happily coexisting with the poppier fare; around the middle of the decade, however, it became something like an English version of the movie Heathers; kids divided into ‘casuals’ or ‘alternatives”, everyone with their immature and adolescent (and ultimately insecure) disdain for the other side. The ‘Kevins’ and the ‘Traceys’ liked the top 5 hits, they liked Whitney Houston and Starship; Phil Collins. Rick Astley. They wore pastel clothes and had mullets; highlights; white shoes. Scent-wise, it was all about Jazz and Dunhill; torrid bitter machos that the girls lapped up like no tomorrow in their sweet-lipped Exclamation! Impulse body sprays, and Red Door. I shuddered. I was far more into The Associates and David Sylvian, the elegance of Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, which was one of the first fragrances I sampled that I felt didn’t define me as photo-granite-jawed like all the bonehead action heroes of the time such as Mel Gibson and the dreaded Arnold Schwarzenegger ( I just wanted floppy haired male beauties). Tuscany, therefore, was ideal. It had grace and style, was aspirational (a house in Siena); felt organic and fresh. Most importantly, everybody loved it on me – and several other friends then started wearing it as well, because, as I say, there really weren’t that many fragrances around to choose from; if it was good, it got around. Pre-Obsession, which, as I have written about before, was a definite turning point for me, the time when I reclaimed what was mine and would no brook no more ambiguity about my sexual identity or the person I was (i.e.. not a total knucklehead), it was Tuscany, that for a few summers, had the crown. I can see myself on August nights, getting ready to go out, looking in the mirror and splashing Tuscany onto my shoulders and neck before getting dressed. Satisfied. Immersing myself in its herbal pleasures. Its gleaming citrus. At that time, no one spoke of notes or what was in a perfume (adding to its mystery, actually – you simply smelled it and liked it or you didn’t), marvelling at the unknowability therein, getting to know it in all of its stages throughout the day and which parts you liked best. Perfumes were also a lot more complex and layered then as well; they had taken years to come to fruition; they were deliberately built to be monuments meant to last……….)
It is the lemon and bergamot I loved in Tuscany, I think, that crisp top accord glinting on lavender and lime and a subtle underlay of tarragon and anise, basil, and orange blossom; clean, but with depth; a gently aromatic wood base of patchouli, tonka bean, sandalwood and cinnamon, though to me it just smelled of sun and skin and (semi)-oblivious youthful happiness. I haven’t smelled the reformulation recently (this perfume is still sold everywhere, attesting to the quality of its construction ), but I do know that the original had an effortlessness to it that felt very natural; it was a perfume that flowed.
29 responses to “TUSCANY by ARAMIS (1985)”
What a tremendous backdrop for a scent association. Thank you for sharing this.
My pleasure. I am glad you liked it. I woke up this morning clear headed after getting some of the lemon poison out of my system the other day. Robin and I were talking about the fact that even if we didn’t like a perfume back in the day, it didn’t actively make us feel ILL like many do nowadays and I got thinking about some of my earlier favourites. I did smell quite elegant in Tuscany and still have a vintage bottle that D likes to wear sometimes.
Good point—come to think of it, I’ve never come across a vintage perfume that smelled terrible, though I haven’t smelled many. I wonder what was the first really noxious-smelling aromachemical synthesized?
Aramis New West was a shocker at the time – watermelon; Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers – ditto; alongside Escape. With Kenzo Pour Homme – truly salty and oceanic (and which I loved and wore in Italy) things started getting revolutionary but difficult, polarizing.
Hmm, I suspected it might be one of the marine ones. Or a nuclear-powered “woody” or “amber.”
A lot of perfumes now literally just smell like sludge : sledgehammering woods with no ambiguity or emotional acuity.
I loved the photo and loved reading this post. I remember liking Tuscany, the fragrance as well. I also feel nostalgic about perfumes of those days. There was more mystery and there were just a select amount to choose from unlike today when there are thousands of perfume houses and too many perfumes on the market. I remember going to Tuscany and loving everything about it, including all the perfume stores available with perfumes that were inexpensive but beautiful. Perfume was magical back then, not just in Tuscany but even in small towns. There are some positive things about being able to order almost any perfume you desire on-line and the anticipation of receiving your package in the mail or by a delivery company, but the magic and thrill is lacking in today’s world (and the world in general).
I still see magic everywhere, but this year is certainly a shocker.
Personally, if I could reduce the quantity and distill it all into quality, I would happily take a fifth of what is out there and just drool over the remainder; not just ‘quite nice’ combinations of essences, but ALCHEMY
I completely agree.
1985 was quite the year for me also. Moved my country gal 20 yr old self to sophisticated San Francisco to attend UCSF. I thought I was all that whizzing about on a baby blue Vespa with my very hick big yellow hairdo and landing a job at the Estee Lauder beauty counter in a posh department store. Didn’t even know what a latte was!
Let’s see. Perry Ellis was the hip & happening new male fragrance & clothing brand for metrosexuals and the sizeable Gay community of SF. Hugo Boss, Chaps, Anteaus, Carrington, Members Only, Lauder for Men, Fido Dido, Guerlain’s Derby, and Creed’sGreen Irish tweed was just testing out the niche market. EL’s Beautiful became popular with SF’s Gay community as it had Andy Warhol’s endorsement.
Tuscany embodied an entire suburban lifestyle trend in California, entire homes were decorated with faux antiques and landscaped to look like trashed Italian villas. Restaurants (that weren’t even Italian!) and wineries adopted the style. I guess that’s why EL Tuscany reminds me of Range Rover driving middle-aged suburbanite males? I suppose its modern boojie analog is Bleu de Chanel.
So well put !
The dire decor …. that’s why I didn’t up a picture of the original ad : I couldn’t bear to. There is definitely something very water off a duck’s back about Tuscany, a tad smooth and self-satisfied. For me at that moment it felt rather sophisticated in comparison with the stuffier others ( Derby being a perfect case in point). It felt more liberated and new.
And Beautiful : my god it ATE 1985!
You are just as handsome Today! Sadly, I didn’t see A Room With a View in 1985. I was too busy working! I wore Chanel No. 5 back then. I was
Sad that Obsession and all the other fragrances
Didn’t work for me. I love that movie. I especially
Love Daniel Day Lewis in it. I really like the music
You like . However, Rock N Roll is my first musical
Love. I love Find Your Way back by Starship. Your
Post really brought back some memories. Thank you!
What a great post! So many memories. Like bibimaizoon, I moved to San Francisco in 1984 to go to San Francisco State University, except with an old Datsun 810 and a job at the public library. I was swanning around in Dior Poison and then Rochas Byzance, feeling very womanly. The grating synthetic trend in perfumes started for me with Calvin Klein, although his stuff seems tame compared to what we are faced with now.
I dropped German to take Italian as well. Being a francophone already, Italian was much friendlier.
Loving these synchronicities !
I love Poison and Byzance as well
I always love it when you take a trip down memory lane, especially when it detours down an especially personal path. I’m with you on everything you said about film, and the eighties, Italy, and the state of the fragrance world then. I relate to crushes, first loves, first losses.
I got very nostalgic reading this piece.
Releases were such a big deal then. It’s not just that they were infrequent; it was because the fragrances themselves really made a statement of a new, high quality, original (emphasis on the original) beauty (also emphasis on the beauty, as we’d talked about the other day).
At the start of that decade, Ivoire appeared and I distinctly remember the feeling of suddenly seeing the display in the perfume section of Eatons Department Store in downtown Vancouver and walking towards the bottle with — really! –tingles up and down my back. I remember the stripes on the box and the shape of the bottle. I remember the strength of emotions I felt with my first sniff. For some reason, my memory informs me that they had pure parfum as testers back then. (I only bought parfum and I think part of the reason is that that was what I was initially exposed to and never thought about a less-intense, usually less-pure alternative.) I was essentially a serial monogamist and so any new perfume would attach itself to all my memories of that span of time, digging deep into my brain, recoverable with a whiff of the same fragrance decades’ later. It still happens, but not to the same extent. One year is only a sixty-third of my life now, not a twenty-third, and I might wear a new fragrance exclusively for a couple of weeks, not a couple of years.
Tuscany must have been heavenly.
As usual you read my mind – it is supernatural. I was thinking about Ivoire SPECIFICALLY all the while I was writing this!
It is the perfect example of a scent you find in a department store and go INSANE over. As I have written before, there was one time when I was trying to decide what perfume to buy my mum for an important birthday. I spent an entire weekend trying everything, and ended up buying her the Balmain. She found it slightly too sweet, but I drenched a leather bound notebook that I took with me for that year in Rome, and it smelled of Ivoire throughout. What IS it about that scent? It kills me.
Cue theme from Twilight Zone. Are you kidding me?! You were thinking of Ivoire too? That’s impossible, because it wasn’t a month ago we had a similar one in a hundred synchronicity. Something to do with Vol de Nuit. Wow.
I’m trying to put into words why Ivoire had such an impression on me. I think that combo of green, floral and chypre accords just crystallized into a classic, almost regal beauty — that word again, beauty — that was still casual, fresh and (important for me at the time, at 22) youthful. There were other brilliant fragrances around then, more brilliant, but I wasn’t ready for them.
Just thinking about Helen’s comment about your interview by Moleskine and how the whole of your personality perhaps did not quite come across, particularly your sense of humour, your lighter side. I’ve felt those things in your writing here, though, definitely. Part of why I enjoy it as slavishly as I do. (*blushes*) I would love to hear it spoken. Maybe another interview. Wait! You had a great one for your book, with oh god, an English woman on the radio? Or . . . I can’t remember. I know the two of you had a real rapport and the interviewer knew their stuff. That was really nice to experience.
Ah Balmain’s Ivoire, I bought my first bottle of that in Printemps department store in Paris on my first trip to Europe, along with a bottle of Caron’s Nocturnes.
WHAT A DIVINE COMBINATION. I ADORE BOTH!
Just writing that must bring back incredible memories….
1985– that must have been the year I bought my first perfume too! That was Krizia‘s Uomo. Good thing I never made a mental connection to „homo“ as I would never have worn it again. I have fond memories of that Italian perfume! My second perfume was a Halston, but I cannot remember wich one.
Everything about this post was magical. The 80s were sublime; the movies, the fragrances, the makeup, the music, the culture and counter culture of it all.
I saw A Room with a View with my Mama, and I was immediately smitten with Julian Sands, how truly dreamy he is. I remember how I dreamt of travelling to Italy and reliving many of the scenes in the film. Sadly, I have never been, but will go one day.
Oh how I adored Tuscany and Tuscany per Donna, I still have a small bottle of per Donna, which I adore. I had my first part-time job in men’s fragrances in the winter of 1985, and I remember Polo and Drakkar Noir being huge sellers, with the occasional Chanel pour Monsieur being sold. You are so correct, the fragrance landscape was so much more reasonable at the time, even women’s fragrances, and the quality was top-notch, even for lesser known fragrances. None of this foolishness of 1000’s of scents being released in a year.
It’s too bad about your friend Sarah. Such a terrible thing to say to you. I feel you are the person you were meant to become and a true friend would have enjoyed the person you were, are and will be.
Thanks. It really stung (and was unbearably stupid).
Tuscany Per Donna: I remember it being like a sweeter Samsara?
It shared a common thread with Samsara, but while Samsara is a plush completely enveloping scent, Tuscany per Donna weaves you into it’s rich tapestry. A truly unsung gem.
Yes I remember it; it’s strange how the men’s version has survived but donna has not (to my knowledge). I suppose there aren’t really all that many actually good homme perfumes around and Tuscany doesn’t smell like anything else.
That would be most likely. Men’s fragrances seem to fall into two catagories, the classics and the Bro-scents. Classics are what they are, sophisticated and élégant, Bro-scents are pretty nuclear and the aromachemicals are very pronounced. So it isn’t surprising the men’s Tuscany still does well.
Pardon the (relatively small, in the grand scheme of things) bump. I was just so struck by your evocation of that time and place. Fifteen-sixteen was Room With a View for me too, first the movie and then the book. I think I was constitutionally unable to perceive the ironies that ran right through the sentiments, pleasures and persuasions of either of them. To pick up that terrible comment you mentioned, I sometimes wonder if I prefer to think of them (me?) as they (me.) were (was) then… But then as Morrissey said back when (oh no this is getting depressing) *he* was as I prefer to think of *him*, “yes you’re older now and you’re a clever swine,” so maybe revisiting past ironies is one of the pleasures of getting old and cruel and clever. Anyway, my first purchase, also in that year (1986), was Grey Flannel… A much more artfully constructed Grey Flannel, too; the current version still has a whallop of flowers — mimosa, violet, iris, rose — but this earlier (Jacqueline Cochrane) bottle also had a lovely earl grey tea bergamot opening and deep base of soft sandalwood and cool, gloomy oakmoss. The day I purchased it I was so fascinated by its transitions that I must have sprayed it ten or fifteen times in my mother’s car… Anyway, Bowling Green (another Geoffrey Beene fragrance) had just come out, snagged a FIFI award, and seemed to richly embody that winsome Edwardian-ness I was trying very hard to squint into existence in my own life. I stuck with what I had, feeling very loyal to Grey Flannel (the deeper gloom of the Cure with their allusions to Camus was right around the corner for me and this seemed like a better fit for those omens) but I was interested i the way the ad campaigns of both of them seemed to connect with this Merchant-Ivory moment i the zeitgeist. Anyway, thank you so much for the memories. I mean ouch also, but thanks.
I love this. Very evocative.
Interestingly I have been revisiting my Cure albums these last few weeks and enjoying them immensely – the urge just suddenly came upon me.
I love(d) Grey Flannel also : it was so peculiar and indecipherable – to me it smelled like frozen green beans and was somehow alien yet also irresistible, even if I never entirely liked the woody musk base.
In terms of who we are etc and which versions we prefer… I will be fifty in a week, which is a little daunting….. but I still think I prefer the current self – I like the much wider perspective. Also the more manly appearance ( I literally don’t recognize myself in that gaunt-faced sapling). Youth has a magical aspect to it but it is not my obsession. I feel I still have the same passion and intensity, if not the hair.
I certainly relate to the hair…But also, yes, the being more at home in this age (49 for me), in which once-fragile piecemeal sensibility has certainly become less transient and more trenchant over the past three and a half decades (recently I read someone — a filmmaker? A novelist? a designer? — saying that if he met his youthful self in a creative bar fight, he was pretty sure he’d win…I think this is so for me too, if only because older me knows more dirty tricks.)
Incidentally, have you ever smelled Lush’s ‘Dirty’? I recently wandered around with a little of the perfume on one wrist and the body spray (which was applied in the form of a giant geyser from a black spray nozzle) and was very surprised… It came across as an aldehydic spearmint-fennel- thyme- lavender- oak moss monster initially, but it did evolve a little and at times exhibited a green intensity and mossiness that reminded me — in atmosphere if not in profile — of Grey Flannel. Interestingly, though I was captivated for quite awhile and kept making my poor partner smell my wrist (” I just smell mint” she repeatedly answered to my incredulous demands), it was the overly tenacious musk in the drydown that turned me off in the end, just as you have commented on regarding Grey Flannel. Probably at a younger age I would just put up with it; but then that’s another good thing about getting older — knowing what doesn’t work will never work.