Marc Jacobs Woman (for Her) : Fragrance Review

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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.

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48 Comments

  • mysterious_scent: Thanks for reviewing Marc Jacobs Woman. It was my first serious perfume crush. I still occasionally wear it these days. While the top notes still make me feel good, I can’t bear the sharp chemical drydown anymore. October 2, 2012 at 8:13am Reply

    • Suzanna: Mysterious Scent, I am immune to sharp chemical drydowns after trying hundreds of scents that have it–some more so than others. Sorry you can’t wear it any longer! October 2, 2012 at 10:20am Reply

  • Nicola: Oh my goodness Suzanna, you have nailed this with the inclusion in your review of the Sloaney types wearing this! It was the signature scent for a while of a friend of mine and she fits that description to a T. I must confess I rather loved MJ Woman at the time myself despite being a Stoke Newington girl (Dalston not quite yet cool). This and OJ Frangipani made me realise I did like and could wear white flower scents. October 2, 2012 at 8:50am Reply

    • Suzanna: Oh, Nicola, OJ Frangipani is fantastic, isn’t it? And thanks for bringing it into the discussion since it would be something well worth seeking out by those who like the MJ Woman.

      Let’s hear it for Stoke Newington girls! October 2, 2012 at 10:21am Reply

      • Nicola: Heh Suzanna – are you a resident of N16 too? ? October 3, 2012 at 8:44am Reply

        • Suzanna: Nope, a resident of 32608, Gainesville, Florida (Go, Gators!). Just voicing my support for N16! October 3, 2012 at 5:34pm Reply

  • eminere: I loved this scent and the corresponding men’s too. Pure class, as you said. October 2, 2012 at 9:00am Reply

    • Suzanna: Eminere, I’ve always had a bottle of it and always will. There are times when its effortlessness and cool are required, when nothing else will do. Not even Michael Kors. October 2, 2012 at 10:22am Reply

  • Elena: My mother suggested that I ask my date for the senior prom for a gardenia corsage, and that is by far my strongest memory of the evening. Sorry, date, you just couldn’t compare to a real, fresh gardenia. 🙂 I will have to try this, it sounds lovely. October 2, 2012 at 9:43am Reply

    • Suzanna: Elena, do try and let me know what you think! October 2, 2012 at 10:22am Reply

  • Heather: I just bought a bottle about two weeks ago after smelling absolutely everything at Liberty in London. All the new niche fragrances, as well as everything I already know (just to be on the safe side), and I settled on this. I last had a bottle around the time it came out, but somehow it feels that enough time has passed that it can be a new love again, and it really is heads above a lot of the big white florals that have been launched in the intervening years. Classic indeed. Thanks for the lovely review. October 2, 2012 at 9:49am Reply

    • Suzanna: Heather, your story should resound with everyone who hunts around for a new scent and often comes up empty-handed. I feel the same way you do–a new love! October 2, 2012 at 10:59am Reply

  • allgirlmafia: Just like mysterious_scents, this was also my first perfume crush. As a teen I owned Incognito and Red Door. This is the first fragrance that made me say ‘ummm’. While pleasant enough to make me pause I don’t ever see myself purchasing this. I’ve only in the last year developed an obsession for fragrance. These days Im partial to Chanel Eau Premiere, Prada Infusion D’Iris and just recently Glamourous by Ralph Lauren. Next I want to try Philosophys fragrance…they make me curious. October 2, 2012 at 10:57am Reply

    • Suzanna: Allgirlmafia, try them all! You will soon find much to love. Good luck. October 2, 2012 at 10:59am Reply

  • silverdust: Thanks for bringing this one to our attention, Suzanna. Lola and Daisy DO seem to command all the display space. Can’t wait to try it. October 2, 2012 at 11:47am Reply

    • Suzanna: Silverdust, what do you think I was spraying the other night–Lola and Daisy and Daisy Eau Fraiche. I then put the strips into a bag containing a blouse I had just bought….needless to say, guess which frag(s) I am wearing today? October 2, 2012 at 12:13pm Reply

  • OperaFan: This is such a beauty – a perfect gem!

    I received a 1/8 oz mini of the perfume in an NM gwp bag, probably not long after its initial release. I waited years before trying it out with very low expectations set. Silly me…. Yes, it’s clean – no mushroom anywhere to be found, but so what? An idealized (possibly “Americanized”) rendition of a gardenia that casts a lovely aura about the wearer. I think it’s among the best of its type.

    Only a few drops remain in my little bottle and, due to fears of reformulation I’ve never tried to find another bottle. Maybe someday but for now I will just open it occassionally to “reset” my sniffer when tired. 🙂 I’m so glad you decided to write about it! October 2, 2012 at 12:27pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Glad you enjoyed the review, OperaFan. V. and I had been discussing how easy this one is to wear and voila…a review!

      Agree about it being “Americanized.” October 2, 2012 at 12:54pm Reply

      • OperaFan: Indeed – I’ve noticed Victoria’s frequent mention of this one lately, and smiled a little each time I saw. October 2, 2012 at 1:43pm Reply

        • Victoria: I smelled it the other day and I thought, “ah, what a beauty!”

          Funny, it does feel like a classical American white floral, but it was created by a Vietnamese perfumer, Loc Dong. October 3, 2012 at 3:55am Reply

  • Cheryl: I am so glad you reviewed this lovely fragrance. This is the perfume I use most frequently. It seems to work for all ocassions. I typically lean toward white florals (though I have a few favorites in most categories) and love this representation of gardenia. The woods, water, and ginger give it a realistic edge like smelling one of my own garden. Like a beautiful woman, there is just enough adornment to accentuate the gardenia’s natural beauty. October 2, 2012 at 12:40pm Reply

    • Suzanna: This is exactly how I feel about it, Cheryl. It is just right and could easily be a sig frag! October 2, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

  • maggiecat: I’ll have to try this next time I’m in Sephora! I often love gardenia scents, but have a strong reaction to tuberose, which is what I was thinking this was. But your description makes me think it might well suit me – thank you! October 2, 2012 at 2:22pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Let me know what you think, maggie. The aqueous nature of it makes it have a lovely transparency. It’s not that cheesey gardenia one finds elsewhere. October 2, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

  • annemariec: I have never heard of this, but the Marc Jacobs brand was not big in Australia, I think, until Daisy crashed on to the scene.

    Is it also just called Marc Jacobs? I had trouble locating it on Fragrantica until I got rid of ‘Woman’ from the search. (Confusingly, MJ also had a fragrance just called ‘Gardenia’.) Fragrantica thinks Marc Jacobs was released in 2001 but people’s memories seem to go way back before that. Goodness, the princess of Sloane Rangers, Diana, was gone from us by 2001.

    Anyway, this perfume sounds lovely. Ormonde Jayne is a bit spendy for me so this sounds like a nice alternative. October 2, 2012 at 5:28pm Reply

    • Suzanna: annemariec, Marc Jacobs has a lot of frags, and three blockbusters, with two back-to-back (Lola and Daisy). Gardenia was a cologne-like limited edition seasonal scent–three were released each year. These often turn up at discounters.

      Yes, Woman was originally Marc Jacobs. It’s Woman now, but it wasn’t then (confusingly enough, right?).

      Interesting to hear this wasn’t even a blip on the radar Down Under. It was quite popular here, along with Michael Kors. October 2, 2012 at 9:27pm Reply

      • annemariec: Hmmm .. could be wrong, but MJ does not seem to have been distributed here until relatively recently; say, the last decade. Certainly it’s everywhere now. (Dot! Dot!) Michael Kors is another recent entry on to the scene.

        What has been lost are staples I used to see all the time in the prestige department stores, but not any more: VCA’s First, for instance, and Patou’s Joy. The department stores still only have the same amount of floor space for fragrance as they did 20 years ago, so something has to give. We don’t have any equivalent of Sephora here. October 3, 2012 at 12:44am Reply

        • Victoria: That’s too bad about First and Joy. Surprising even that those two big classics had to go, but I suppose that you’re right, it is survival of the best sellers…. October 3, 2012 at 3:57am Reply

          • Suzanna: Saks still has these (in Florida, and NM, too). They are the dowager empresses of the fragrance counter, sitting regally behind the latest Bond No. 9 scent.

            The original, city-based Sephoras had these, but were downsized. October 3, 2012 at 9:42am Reply

  • Mikeperez23: One of the very few florals that gives me a big honking headache when I bought my bottle years ago, and quickly sold it thereafter. I really **wanted** to like this, but alas…24 Faubourg Eau Delicate by Hermes is more my speed. October 2, 2012 at 6:42pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Ah, well, Mike, we all get headaches from something I am sure! And you found a great sub! October 2, 2012 at 9:28pm Reply

  • Daisy: I wore this religiously my first year of graduate school. It was initially quite a shock to the system after all the unisex CKOne and CKBe that marked my college years. I still remember it fondly and loved that little leather bow!

    Thanks for reminding me how nice it was! October 2, 2012 at 8:47pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Daisy, glad I can bring back this memory for you. I think MJ was a great choice for grad school. October 3, 2012 at 8:55am Reply

  • Ksenija: OMG! Thank you so much for this review! I have been wondering through perfume stores for weeks trying to find something inspiring. Alas, nothing could intrigue my senses or keep my attention. I saw this review yesterday and was curious to try the prefume. It is not an easy find in Utrecht. When I finally found it, it was almist un-noticable from all the other MJ shout-out fragrances. So I tested it, and it is such a great pleasure to wear it! It feels completely ‘out of space’ among other popular fragrances nowdays. I just love how it develops on my skin in an unintrusive but most enjoyable way. Now I know I just have to get myself a full sized bottle! Thank you! October 3, 2012 at 6:03am Reply

    • annemariec: Shout-out is right! What is wonderful for me is the discovery that there was a time when MJ fragrances were not like this. October 3, 2012 at 7:37am Reply

      • Suzanna: MJ is on a roll right now with the “shout outs.” Seems aimed to a different market entirely, the Lola/Daisy youth market, whereas the MJ frag was a bit more sophisticated. October 3, 2012 at 9:40am Reply

    • Suzanna: Ksenija, I am thrilled that you love the MJ and that you discovered it among his other, decorated bottles. There it sits without the plastic “curb appeal” of the rest, including that latest one, Dot. Enjoy! October 3, 2012 at 9:40am Reply

  • bluegardenia: Love this review. Spot on. I lost all interest in mainstream perfumery a couple years after this came out. And now I know why. One of the last big white floral gasps indeed. I expected great things from Marc Jacobs to follow. Who knew he would start making scents and bottles exclusively for 11 year olds?
    Amazing how quickly tastes change. This new generation of fruity patchouli fans has TERRIBLE taste! 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 4:08am Reply

    • Suzanna: bluegardenia, mainstream perfumery certainly has changed! That’s what’s driven so many of us to niche houses, where there are a lot more options for those of us of a certain age–I mean older than 11. October 4, 2012 at 8:20am Reply

      • bluegardenia: Exactly! I’ll never forget the sense of wonder and awe I felt when I first discovered the world of niche – I was a teenager in the mid 90s and stumbled into aedes de venustas. I left with a bottle of tubereuse by l’artisan, not even sure I loved it but too intrigued not to have it… and everyone I knew told me I smelled like cough syrup or buttered popcorn for the next year. No one understood its potent beauty. 20 years later tuberose and gardenia scents have gone mainstream and back, and I am a full on fragrance junkie 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 9:28pm Reply

        • Suzanna: bluegardenia, I love this story! I can imagine stumbling into Aedes as a teen and how stunning this discovery must have been!

          I have and love still that Tubereuse. It is discontinued now, in all of its fatty glory. It was one of my first tuberose/gardenia loves! October 4, 2012 at 9:36pm Reply

  • Natalie: I am glad to see this getting appreciation, from you and in the comments! I agree it’s underrated, and I feel a bit protective of it, for some odd reason. October 4, 2012 at 7:28pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Natalie, I’m glad you are protective of it–it’s worth it! October 4, 2012 at 7:49pm Reply

  • Belle: This is the first perfume review website that I honestly enjoy reading. The reviews on this website are honest and intelligent without being overly citical When reading some of the reviews on other websites I felt like I was at an all girl party that was trashing the new girl in town even though they didn’t really know her. I’m not saying that I agree with every review, however, they are presented in an intelligent, informed manner leaving room for someone to agree or disagree without everyone looking down their perfumed noses at them. I look forward to visiting this website often and even making a comment or two. December 18, 2013 at 9:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Belle! I’m very glad to hear that you’re enjoying it here, and I look forward to chatting about perfume together. December 19, 2013 at 3:33am Reply

  • Belle: In my opinion, I doubt anyone could have described Marc Jacobs better that you did. I wore Marc Jacobs years ago but put it in the back of my collection when I went into my “dark and mysterious” phase, along with the ruby red lips and dark, smoky eye makeup (I still shutter when I look at the pictures). When I re-discovered MJ I was ashamed that I gave this lovely perfume away. It is such a lovely perfume. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on perfume notes but the gardenia in this perfume is elegant in an understated way. It is soft and seems to float around me like a gentle haze. And, when people tell me that I smell very nice I know it must agree with my chemistry. If you try this perfume give it a short while to bloom on your skin. December 18, 2013 at 10:44pm Reply

  • Gwen: Great review, and hi! I’ve been searching for WEEKS for a new summer scent, since my beloved Laura Mercier Almond Coconut lost my love due to the reformulation. 🙁 I have bought Michael Kors; I LOVE the initial blast, but not thrilled with the undefinable floral it morphs into. I read about MJ last night, found your site while looking for more reviews, and can’t wait to go test it tonight. Wish me luck! (I can’t tell you the dozens I’ve tried, two at a time, over the past few weeks. LOL) June 26, 2014 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Good luck, Gwen! Hope that it will work out well. Keeping my fingers crossed! June 26, 2014 at 1:07pm Reply

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