Ralph Lauren Safari : Fragrance Review

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Elisa on Safari, a ’90s classic with an ’80s spirit.

The ‘80s were a time that fetishized “adventure” – I grew up watching movies that took a page from Heart of Darkness, portraying Americans or Brits confronting the terrifying Other-ness of primitive African, Asian, and aboriginal cultures. Today’s audiences would find most of these films (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Crocodile Dundee, etc.) unwatchably offensive, and rightly so; their cultural moment has passed.

ralph-lauren-safari

Ralph Lauren Safari, composed by Dominique Ropion, was released in 1990, but feels to me like an ‘80s scent (cusp years cling more tightly to the previous decade than the following, I’ve found). As a concept perfume, it perfectly fits the adventurist trend, and I associate those striking Bridget Hall ads that I saw in every magazine as a kid with the old Banana Republic stores. (If you’re younger than me, you might not remember that their stock in trade at the time was khaki shorts and branded t-shirts, not pinstriped office-wear.)

A true green chypre (not a “modern chypre”), Safari immediately announces itself as a galbanum monster. In fact, if you’ve never smelled galbanum, it is an excellent introduction to the material: olive-green, not crisp like violet leaf or blackcurrant buds, but rich and almost oily. The galbanum, along with a juicy orange top note and a touch of hairspray-like aldehydes, tumbles into an opulent floral mix of hyacinth, jasmine, narcissus, and marigold. The woody drydown is sweeter than that of a typical old-school chypre, since the nutty vetiver and moss come paired with ambery styrax, and (I suspect) a sneaky dose of vanilla. Like many heavy-hitters from its day, Safari has plentiful sillage and lasts all day, changing slightly with every half-hour.

Perhaps the best way to describe Safari is warm – like the first warm days in spring or the last warm days in fall, it’s suffused with sunlight, those slanted, late-afternoon rays you want to soak up every last drop of.

Ralph Lauren Safari includes notes of galbanum, orange, mandarin, aldehydes, cassis, rosemary, hyacinth, rose, lily of the valley, narcissus, jasmine, iris, tagetes, orange blossom, vetiver, moss, sandalwood, cedar, patchouli, tonka bean, and amber. It is still in production and available direct from Ralph Lauren stores, at $62 for a 2.5 oz. bottle.

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58 Comments

  • Karen: Hmmmm, this makes me want to seek out some vintage Safari! And, Yes!! Banana Republic used to have such cool, incredible clothes – I remember buying a pair of loose, dark green pants with an incredible dragon embroidered up one leg – jeez, they were such cool pants! Fun review, Elisha, thanks! (and those movies, cringe-worthy now, but great back then…..) April 17, 2015 at 7:24am Reply

    • limegreen: 🙂 I had a fun lightweight khaki shirt from BR, very faux safari — it was a cool store before it became a JCrew clone.
      Thanks for the intro to this perfume, I would now like to sample it for its greenness! April 17, 2015 at 9:50am Reply

      • AndreaR: Wasn’t BR fabulous 🙂 An antidote for all that Laura Ashley floating around. Aromatics Elixir called to me then. Great memories. April 17, 2015 at 1:46pm Reply

        • Elisa: Really love how this thread is mostly a vintage Banana Republic appreciation fest hahaha! April 17, 2015 at 2:23pm Reply

          • AndreaR: Such fun! April 17, 2015 at 2:54pm Reply

        • rosarita: Yes! I had an oversized white linen shirt that I wore until it fell to pieces. The anti Laura Ashley, perfect description!

          I honestly don’t think I’ve ever tried Safari and I would probably love it now. April 17, 2015 at 3:08pm Reply

        • Karen: Hey wait a minute! I wore both and luuuuved Laura Ashley! To this day I regret getting rid of my dresses as the fabrics were really gorgeous. But how fun that others remember BR when it was really cool, fun and interesting! April 17, 2015 at 6:02pm Reply

          • limegreen: Thanks for bringing back our BR memories, Elisa! I had completely forgotten that BR started out that way.
            The Laura Ashley fabrics were high quality and beautiful. I had a long LA calico skirt that I had sewn and was so proud of it. It felt “grown up.” 🙂 (Didn’t hurt to be a fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books either!) April 17, 2015 at 7:22pm Reply

            • Karen: What a great memory! I love thinking about certain clothes that have wonderful memories connected with them. April 18, 2015 at 9:33am Reply

    • Elisa: Holy cow, a dragon? They sound awesome! April 17, 2015 at 10:04am Reply

      • Karen: Oh my God, they were the coolest pants I think I ever owned! Well, those and my MC Hammer pants, ha ha ha – but really those dragon pants I held on to till they were literally falling apart. Very lightweight dark green fabric with cargo pockets (to stash all your Indiana Jones antiquities??) with a red dragon embroidered up the back of one leg. April 17, 2015 at 6:07pm Reply

        • Elisa: Reminds me of the “Torn” video — wasn’t Natalie I. wearing a shirt with a dragon on it? April 17, 2015 at 6:17pm Reply

  • silverdust: The ’80s were the heydey of great ‘fumes. Safari was one I bought and wore, even though it was kind of tough to wear — sharp and strong. It was great for its time, but I can’t imagine wearing it today. I’m kind of shocked at how my tastes have changed.

    The only “originals” from the ’70s and ’80s I still crave are Rive Gauche and No. 22, and not in their current versions. April 17, 2015 at 9:21am Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, I still wear Safari! It is quite strong but it has a warmth and sweetness that I find comforting. April 17, 2015 at 10:07am Reply

  • Gretchen: Oh, how I loved that fragrance…I wore that, and Casmir, and Coco no matter the weather, no matter the setting. What I would do for one of those original mock Waterford, tortoiseshell and silver bottles again! April 17, 2015 at 9:43am Reply

    • Elisa: Mock Waterford — exactly! April 17, 2015 at 10:12am Reply

  • Aisha: I’m wearing this today! 🙂

    Safari and Lauren were two of my favorites during and right after college. My then-boyfriend (now, husband) bought me a large bottle of Safari around the time it first came out. I still have that bottle, and the “juice” still smells wonderful. I actually think it’s even more stunning today. April 17, 2015 at 9:46am Reply

    • Elisa: Yay! I do think there are certain perfumes that actually improve with age. And how lucky that it has such a nice association for you. April 17, 2015 at 10:13am Reply

  • Patricia: I learned at least two new things about Safari in your article, Elisa. First that it was composed by Dominique Ropion (!), and second that it is still being produced. Though at the time I wore Lauren more often, I still have a soft spot in my heart for this one and own a vintage travel size. Thanks for an informative article on an old favorite! April 17, 2015 at 9:46am Reply

    • Elisa: I also have a travel size bottle — the one that sits upside down. Should last me a while since this stuff is strong! April 17, 2015 at 10:13am Reply

      • Patricia: I have the same bottle, and yes, Safari is strong! April 17, 2015 at 11:39am Reply

      • Aisha: Its strength is likely the reason why my bottle has lasted me so long. One spritz is all I need. The scent also lasts on me a good 8-10 hours. April 19, 2015 at 1:20pm Reply

  • briony hey: I remember buying a bottle of Safari in the ’80s. Only once though – I found it a bit sharp although I did love the bottle. Rochas Femme was my staple in those days. Femme for nights and Nina Ricci Capricci for days. You used to be able to get Capricci in EDT in department store sales for next to nothing. It’s still available but only the parfum in a Lalique bottle at an absolutely prohibitive price. I really miss those ’80s fumes! April 17, 2015 at 10:02am Reply

    • Elisa: I have not heard of Capricci but I love the name! April 17, 2015 at 10:31am Reply

    • Patricia: I have some Capricci from the old days :-). I wore it and Farouche in the mid- to late seventies. The Lalique parfum bottle is beyond gorgeous. April 17, 2015 at 11:42am Reply

  • Joy: Did I love that perfime! I loved the sunlight shining through the faceted bottle, the box that looked like leather. I sprayed the perfume on cotton ball and put them in all my drawers. I sprayed it on myself before going out on long bicycle rides. It blended well with cold air and perspiration. It was the perfect choice for someone who could not afford “The World of Ralph Lauren”.But, I also wore it with my gorgeous silk 80’s blouses.
    I also loved the original Banana Republic store. I went to the little store on Maiden Lane in San Francisco. That is where I bought my favorite khaki shirt with snaps at the front and a pocket for a lump of sugar for a recalcitrant horse. The clothes in the catalog were hand sketched. I also had a sweater from the British RAF.
    Thank you for the wonderful memories! I am going to order a decant to see if I still love that perfume as I did then. April 17, 2015 at 10:53am Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Joy, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who remembers the old BR stores! The pocket for a lump of sugar cracks me up. April 17, 2015 at 11:17am Reply

      • Joy: I used to pore over those catalogs. I’m sure I had a lot of the descriptions memoruzed. I never set foot in the stores now. April 17, 2015 at 1:23pm Reply

    • limegreen: I had no idea that was the reason the pocket was designed that way! I thought it was to hold a pen in place. (Such a nerd on safari!) 🙂 April 17, 2015 at 7:26pm Reply

  • mals86: OH MAN I love Safari. It took me awhile, though. I didn’t run across it back in the day, don’t know why. And the first time I tried it, a few years ago, it was from a mini bottle of the parfum, which is considerably warmer and more basenotey than the edp… and I didn’t like it. It was *too* warm and too vanilla and it didn’t seem right to me.

    But I kept running across mentions of it, and you know I’m a galbanum ho anyway, so last spring I took a chance with a partial bottle on ebay for about $25. That paid off big-time, because that bottle is GONE now. The craving to wear it kept sneaking up on me – I go through stages where I don’t want to wear anything else (unless it’s Le Temps d’une Fete). I’ve worn it three times this week.

    I love the way that Safari smells to me of grass, both fresh and drying into hay, and polished wood and (yes) vanilla. It’s strangely satisfying. April 17, 2015 at 11:19am Reply

    • mals86: Oh – and I really hated Temple of Doom, but Out of Africa was pretty swoony. But you’re right, that snobby colonialism angle really seems dated and was probably always at least borderline offensive if not completely wrong to begin with. April 17, 2015 at 11:22am Reply

      • Elisa: Did you ever see Young Sherlock Holmes? It had a similar “weird exotic occult people” angle, but I really enjoyed that one. April 17, 2015 at 11:31am Reply

        • mals86: It’s been yonks since I saw that, but I remember liking it. April 17, 2015 at 11:33am Reply

      • Ann: I inhaled the Tintin comic books when I was a little girl. I had them all and would read them over and over again. I regret immensely that I sold them all at a garage sale when I was about 10 having decided I was too old for them (ridiculous!). A thousand years later when I went to get them for my sons I was a little horrified at the racist stereotypes… too bad! So it is Calvin and Hobbes… April 17, 2015 at 12:28pm Reply

        • Elisa: Oh it’s sad when things you used to love get ruined that way….oh well. April 17, 2015 at 12:38pm Reply

    • Elisa: I’m glad you saw the review since I know you love this one and galbanum in general! Meanwhile, I really need to try LTdUF again — I had a sample >5 years ago and wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I like galbanum more than I used to. April 17, 2015 at 11:30am Reply

      • mals86: LTdF has changed; it’s considerably lighter and more weighted toward the florals than it used to be, too. I still like it, but in my mind it’s like an eau flanker to the older fragrance. The old version wore more like an edp than the edt it was labeled as. April 17, 2015 at 11:36am Reply

        • Elisa: Do you still have any of the old version hoarded away? April 17, 2015 at 11:56am Reply

          • mals86: A bit! I treat it like gold. April 20, 2015 at 5:46pm Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you for a beautifully written article, so very evocative of time and place. I love that you put it in context. You know, I must have smelled Safari in magazines’ perfume strips in the nineties when I lived in New York but while I am quite familiar with Lauren (have a vintage mini of it) I have never tried Safari properly, I will have to remedy this soon.

    PS still have shorts from ’80s Banana Republic, boy were they well made. Now that I am in London I go there for accessories, I especially like their belts April 17, 2015 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Elisa: I had a skirt from the Gap that I bought in the early 90s and it was in perfect shape 15 years later …. finally got rid of it when my waist size changed, otherwise I could have kept wearing the skirt! April 17, 2015 at 12:45pm Reply

  • MikasMinion: I love Safari and savor every spray from my early-nineties bottle. I remember buying a Mother’s Day gift set at Dillard’s when I was in middle school (with my saved up allowance) that had a large bottle, travel bottle, shower gel, and lotion. The SA was so pleased that I had chosen it and I was far too shy to say I was buying it for myself. Actually, I hope I did get Mom something that year. I probably made my dad buy her something from me. I was such a selfish twerp.
    I always think of the original BR stores when I wear Safari too. I still have a Hawaiian print wrap skirt and matching button down that I got there back in the age where head to toe Hawaiian print was somewhat acceptable. Thank goodness there is no photographic evidence I ever wore them together. April 17, 2015 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Elisa: Ahhh, head to toe Hawaiian. I love it! And good for you being so sophisticated in middle school. April 17, 2015 at 1:29pm Reply

      • Karen: This is too wonderful that we are all reminiscing about our fashion choices from the past! April 17, 2015 at 6:12pm Reply

  • Theresa: Thanks for the review, Elisa. I love galbanum (what I know of it, anyway!), and will have to try Safari now. Do you know how the current incarnation stacks up against the vintage? April 17, 2015 at 3:40pm Reply

    • Elisa: If you love galbanum you have to try it! I’m not sure about the differences though — I bought my bottle about 4-5 years ago, but it was from a little discount shop and it might have been older. Still smells great. Generally with chypres, older is better…. April 17, 2015 at 4:29pm Reply

  • Merlin: I loved Safari a year or two ago and often tested it. They sell it at mainstream department stores here. I can’t speak for everyone, because I have perfume eating skin, but current Safari does not last on me at all 🙁 I have never tried vintage so I can’t compare… In any case, the current one is green and lovely, but so short-lived it is not worth its price. April 17, 2015 at 5:29pm Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, that’s too bad. The version I have lasts quite a while! April 17, 2015 at 6:15pm Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, that’s too bad. The version I have lasts quite a while! April 17, 2015 at 6:15pm Reply

  • Laurie Brown: I loved Safari; it’s one of my all time favorites. I still have just a few drops left in a tiny bottle. I allow myself to sniff it every once in a while because it’s so lovely. I did not realize it was still in production- I’ve searched the internet for it before and not found it. Was it perhaps out of production for a while and then resurrected? April 17, 2015 at 6:41pm Reply

    • Elisa: That may be the case — though available on the RL website I’m not sure how easy it is to find in stores. I bet you can still find older stock on eBay. April 18, 2015 at 10:18am Reply

  • elisa p: What a fun read! I’m laughing reading some of the comments and remembering the original BR. I guess I thought it was pretty great then(and it was cheaper than the Gap). And those colonial-chic Safari ads. I don’t remember how it smells but am now curious to sample it. April 17, 2015 at 10:51pm Reply

    • Elisa: The sad thing is I was a little kid at the time and only had one of the cheapo branded t-shirts, none of the “real” clothes. April 18, 2015 at 10:20am Reply

  • Rowanhill: But of course Safari. I wore it with passion in the beginning of the 90’s (alternating with Coco Chanel and Paloma Picasso), loved the “crystal” arrow head shaped purse spray. I thought at the time that would be just the thing to take with me on a safari and pictured myself having those post colonial sundowner gin&tonics on my tree house deck. Some years back I bought a bottle at this wonderful perfume shop in Singapore, which was like Ali Baba’s cave for lost ‘fumes. Lovely to wear on occasion, think will go and put on some right now. It seems like the perfect choice for a cool but bright spring day. April 18, 2015 at 9:31am Reply

    • Elisa: Haha, G&T’s — perfect! I love it on a bright spring day (and I still crave Paloma Picasso too!) April 18, 2015 at 10:21am Reply

      • Rowanhill: That same shop sold me some Paloma Picasso too. 🙂 What a haul it was. I left very happy and considerably liberated from my money. 😀 April 18, 2015 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Gil: Although I appreciate perfumes of days past I am glad that modern perfumery typically moves away from the old idea of many strong ingredients. I like that today most new releases have one or two stars in the juice, and the rest just compliment them. April 20, 2015 at 8:58am Reply

    • Elisa: I’d guess this is just about fashion rather than a true progression — meaning, I wouldn’t be surprised if very complicated many-note perfumes came back some day! April 20, 2015 at 9:17am Reply

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