Before Lola and Daisy, there was Marc Jacobs Woman, the designer’s first (and most sophisticated) fragrance. While one can still find Woman on the shelves of Sephora, it has been eclipsed by the other two scents, the glitzier younger sisters wearing their plastic-flower cartoon collars.
Woman debuted at a time when gardenia/tuberose scents were just becoming fashionable. While Michael Kors treated his eponymous gardenia fragrance to a second-skin suede, Marc Jacobs doused his in a cool rush of water that the marketing copy invitingly calls an “aqua mist.”
Woman is an underrated modern classic of gardenia that has crystallized in glacier water. This glassed-over gardenia has very mild additional notes of bergamot, jasmine, white pepper, honeysuckle, blonde woods, and musk, but it’s really all about that watery gardenia, all the time, slightly green and devastatingly sexy in that ice-cool way.
Woman (and Michael Kors) was one of the last big white floral gasps before modern mass-market perfumery became a flash of fruit against a patchouli scrim. You either love or hate gardenia (or tuberose); they are polarizing white-floral notes that cause a good deal of upset in certain circles for their explosive qualities—Fracas, anyone?—and yet, their devotees insist that they are not explosive at all but mellow and becoming. I am in this second camp. There are times when nothing but Marc Jacobs Woman will do; these are usually times when one requires an element of olfactory grace that isn’t formal or fussy but that at the same time smells like pure class.
This fragrance is truly of its time. By this, I mean that it would never have been made either before or after when it was. It would have been too revolutionary in the 1970s and it would have been completely dismissed in 2010. There was that moment in time where a somewhat dressy-yet-casual white floral was a necessity, and this was when I smelled it in a pub in Fulham nicknamed the Sloaney Pony, where it seemed the ambient scent of a platoon of cool young blondes—the Sloane Ranger type– in white silk trousers and beige pashminas, enjoying chic cocktails on a surprisingly hot and golden early evening. I travel back in time thinking of it then, confident that it smells the same way now.
An immediate rush of minty, salve-like gardenia and then that spray of “aqua mist” that would seem contrived except for the fact that it really works here. There is very little development, at least on my skin. I suppose the honeysuckle makes itself known with a shellacking of sweetness, but for the most part Woman is all about shimmering gardenia. There’s no real drydown or base to Woman.
I always feel that descriptions like “blonde woods” are there simply to sound good—what exactly is a blonde wood, anyway, but a piece of Scandinavian Design furniture? Woman smells top to bottom the same on me and I like that minty cool-down better than I like the end game of many modern scents that go into non-descript fade (pretty much all mall scents now) of chemical musks. Give it a try next time you despair of finding anything interesting in Sephora.
Marc Jacobs Woman (for Her) includes notes of gardenia, cedar, ginger, lily of the valley, and musk. Available from Sephora and major retailers.
Photograph of gardenia by chidorian via flickr, some rights reserved.