Perfumer Hans Hendley
The roaring 1920s and the disco 1970s were both known for hedonism. Fashion and style were considered reflections of character and self-expression kicked caution to the curb. Whether in speakeasies or Studio 54, theatricality and acting out were considered paramount to self-realization. Bathtub gin or blow. Flappers or disco queens. If it feels good, do it. Economic crashes and their return to grim social repentance might have been in the wind, but in the meanwhile, more, more, more. Let it all hang out.
The perfumes of the ’20s were a varied lot, but a common thread was an exuberance that spoke to pleasing oneself and fuck all. Perfumes were lurid and animalic—inescapable to intimates and passers-by alike. The same spirit held for the perfumes of the ’70s but animalic materials were coming under fire and replacements were needed to maintain the grandiosity of the style. Spicy, balsamic materials became the vogue. They were a practical replacement for animal-sourced materials and were as inescapable as their predecessors, if not more. You found them loud and intrusive? Too bad. Self-expression was a threat to The Man and shaking up the stiffs was de riguer in a decade that bridged hippies to punks. Like the ’20s it was play-acting, just with different costume, hair and makeup.
Gia’s lineage can be traced equally to the animalic Weil Zibeline and Lanvin My Sin of the ’20s and the spicy Opium and Cinnabar from the late ’70s. It holds both styles in the same hand, leaving the other hand free to grab hold of the present. Gia appears to move back in time when you apply it, starting with a nod to the spiced ’70s orientals. The dense ginger/clove/vanilla topnote blankets you but manages to steer clear of the spice-cupboard ‘eggnog’ effect that afflicted some perfumes of the time. ’70s reference aside, a potent metallic musky vibration marks Gia as contemporary. It is the sort of deliberately synthetic musky tone that might hint at animalism, but only obliquely. It cautions you that despite deliberate allusions to the past, retro role-playing isn’t in the cards.
The drydown is an amalgam of everything that preceded it. Remnants of the spiced topnotes shade the perfume with tawny hues and the musky metallic tone simmers down from the buzz of sucking on an alkaline battery to a tangy aftertaste. Gia’s long arc and snug drydown bring it in line with the old-school castoreum/deer musk/civet-laced perfumes whose ferocious openings reclined into seductive basenotes. In the drydown Gia dims the lights and turns up the music to create an after-hours vibe. Hendley seems to have deliberately avoided the bell-ringing effect common to spiced balsamic perfumes, where they start and end with the same rich note, simply growing quieter over time. The challenge of reinventing the mechanics of full-fleshed, long-arc, top-to-base progressions has been taken up successfully by a number of artisan perfumers. (Eg. Antonio Gardoni’s Maai and Gardelia, Liz Moores’s Salome, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Chinchilla and Hiram Green’s Arbolé Arbolé.) In Gia’s case, the evolution is detailed and beautifully worked out to unfold over the course of 12-24 hours.
Gia has a delicious sweet/spiced skin tone that puts gourmand perfumes to shame and makes the trend of lily-white musk drydowns seem laughably unsophisticated. You know those vaguely lascivious expressions like, ‘I could just eat you with a spoon’? Expect to hear them when you wear this perfume. The long drydown gives you more than enough time to become hypnotized by your own scent. Gia mimics the enviable qualities of perfumes made with actual animalic materials—it both becomes a part of your skin, and resides just above it, giving a butter-and-honey glow to your personal space.
I wonder how Hendley’s work in photography influences his ability to manipulate olfactory images. The references to perfumes of the ’20s and ’70s function like an overlay of images, commenting on previous decades without reenacting them. This passionate but unsentimental glance at the past gives Gia a sophisticated backstory but a modern appearance.
Perfume purchased from Hendley Perfumes.
(Image, Dave Saint-Pierre’s un peu de tendresse, bordel de merde!, photographer not cited)