Sunday, September 25, 2011
Colors de Benetton 1987
It's probably unfair to review this one, as the liquid currently sold under the name doesn't much remind me of the original version, a bottle of which I was lucky enough to find at a discount store. But the old Colors is such a great fragrance, especially for autumn, and so curiously forgotten, that I can't resist.
At one point, Benetton was, along with Esprit, an interesting anomaly at the mall. The windows of the store popped with primary color in an otherwise boring beige granite landscape, and the ads, early on, were an energetic antidote to the unconscious xenophobia of my midwestern upbringing. Say what you will about those ads - eventually, they were a logical point of contention for many: they were virtually the only thing in Vogue, short of Naomi Campbell, pointing toward a more diverse cultural color palette.
The clothes never thrilled me much. I was shopping at thrift stores - looking for that perfect hue of sixties ochre or pea green - diametrical opposites of the bright greens and yellows at Benetton. And until I found this bottle of Colors recently, I'd forgotten the fragrance myself. Yet, smelling it now, all kinds of memories come back. I was surprised it was so familiar, and it occurred to me that many girls I knew back in high school must have worn it, though it had a lot of competition.
That competition, in my neck of the woods, was roughly as follows: Loulou, Anne Klein, Bijan, Calyx, Camp Beverly Hills, Coco, Beautiful, Creation, Joop, Obsession, Poison, Sung, and Ysatis.
Many of these are still in production, and continue to move the units at breakneck speed, and it could be argued that they've survived so centrally in the marketplace because they were more memorable to begin with. I don't have the data to support or dispute that, aside from pointing out that Calvin Klein and Givenchy have a bit more corporate muscle than a pint-sized Italian upstart, however daring its approach. I could also argue that few fragrances could have survived the onslaught, the following year, of the cultural behemoth known as Eternity, which seemed to shift everything - the way women wanted to smell, the way they wanted to come across, the way they wanted to live, etc. In short, they wanted to live in a fantasy world that looked like the Eternity ad campaign.
But for me Colors has something none of its competition did. One of the earlier forays into fruity floral, it was piquant in a way you didn't typically find at the fragrance counter. Those early fruity floral touches were nothing like their modern spawn. They didn't feel like bubblegum disguised as a fragrance, and they integrated their fruity elements more judiciously - in a way which felt more in keeping with the classical fragrances you were used to.
Colors is a curious medley of these fruitier notes (pineapple, peach), herbal touches, well blended florals (the notes list tuberose and jasmine but I wouldn't have been able to name them without looking), and oriental mainstays (patchouli, civet, oakmoss, opoponax). You notice the peach and pineapple first, but rather than the syrupy compote you get in the modern fruity floral, Colors presents them more delicately, augmented with sage, vanilla, and the slightest hint of civet. It's hard to imagine a fruity floral of today with civet, or patchouli which isn't scrubbed clean of anything making it recognizable as such. A tricky combination, but Colors shows how well it used to be pulled off. That peachy softness lasts for quite a while before the fragrance descends into its heart of muted vanilla and orange blossom.
Colors is a strong, long lasting fragrance, but a mellow wear. It's classified as an oriental, not a fruity floral, in fact, and the use of vanilla and orange blossom (both of which I smell right down to the bottom) give it an overall creaminess which comes closer to LouLou and Ysatis than any of its other competitors. It feels younger than the latter; a little older maybe than the former. It's miles away from the powerhouses of its time - Poison being a good example - and I wouldn't say it's as strong as many of the louder fragrances currently front and center at the mall.
It was created by Bernard Ellena, who did another little one-time sleeper for Benetton called Tribu.