Balmain Ivoire, 1979

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(image, Lee Liberace)

Perfumers Michael Hy and Francis Camail.

Ivoire is a soapy floral from 1979. It balances creamy white petals with a broad stripe of peppery green and a velvety wooded base. Soapy was probably a hard sell in the ’80s, so how on earth has this survived the intervening years? I suppose that being out of fashion could actually make it more likely that you’d survive the fads of the day. Being inexpensive must help, too.

However it worked out, I’m glad Ivoire is still with us. It’s got the poise you find in the best women’s perfumes that make many men’s fragrances look as if their stridency is meant to bolster a limp masculine confidence. Ivoire demonstrates a notion that might baffle us today: that a downmarket, department store fragrance should be expected to have the virtues and quality that we believe we must look to niche to find. It doesn’t smell unexpected or outrageous. Instead it smells spectacular and pleasing. Current florals don’t seem to venture in this specific white-green direction, so Ivoire continues to remain above trends, and holds its own turf. Let’s hope its difference guarantees its continued production. *

(Every time I smell Gucci Envy, I imagine it wanted to smell like a streamlined and updated version of Ivoire but somehow couldn’t escape the uncharitable tenor of 1990s fashion and wound up instead smelling whiny and pissy and then was named accordingly.)


* Ivoire was rereleased in 2012 in a publicly acknowledged, top-to-bottom reformulation. I’ve smelled it briefly and was struck by how mossy and woody it makes the original smell.


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