When some people hear the name Jean Paul Gaultier, they picture cone-shaped corsets and Breton stripes. Others, however, might think of scent, more specifically his blockbuster fragrances Le Male and Classique.
Launched in 1993 as the designer's first perfume, Classique was a game-changing smash hit with its risqué, voluptuous bottle and overtly sensual bouquet of rose, rich vanilla, amber, ginger and orange blossom.
While Classique has lived up to its name, Le Male - which arrived two years later and whose bottle takes the shape of a hyper-masculine torso clad in a sailor shirt - has performed even better. Over 60 million units of Le Male have been sold worldwide. In Canada, it consistently ranks among the Bay's top five men's scents.
Gaultier's newest fragrance, Le Male Terrible, arrived in stores this month, neatly coinciding with the opening of the enthralling new exhibition about the designer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (more on that on page 7).
Le Male Terrible is being positioned as edgier and more provocative than its fragrance forerunner. To wit, a plastic razor-blade charm comes with the torso-shaped bottle, whose Breton stripes are meant to look slashed (ooooh, so wild).
"We wanted to work with the idea of excess," Isabelle Fulconis, the Paris-based deputy marketing director for Jean Paul Gaultier Parfums, explained when we chatted in Montreal last month. "[Gaultier]is known to a generation as a master of haute couture, no longer an enfant terrible, so we wanted to make that message reborn."
Created by well-known perfumer Aurelien Guichard, Le Male Terrible is an explosion of grapefruit freshness. At first spritz, it smells vaguely like a high-end cleaning product. But as the juice dries down and the vetiver, vanilla and amber musk bloom, it becomes increasingly full-bodied and decidedly sexy.
These kinds of scent sequels (known in industry parlance as "flankers") are commonplace throughout the industry and, as with films, the follow-up is typically a letdown. Le Male Terrible, however, is an exception. Evaluating it on scent alone, I actually prefer it to the original.
Kevin Stant, a contributor to the popular fragrance blog Now Smell This, agrees. "To me, it's softer and subtler," he said by phone from Seattle. "It doesn't have the harshness of the original. I can see more people liking it."
Fulconis attributes Gaultier's success in the fragrance market to his ability to "do luxury without luxury codes." By this she means that he exists within a rarefied niche but as a refined rebel. "He talks differently - with freedom and liberally - without being gratuitous. What he does is authentic."
There is a video that was posted on YouTube in September 2010 (when the scent debuted in Europe) that shows dozens of young men in striped shirts descending on the cafés, streets and phone booths of Paris, each with an attractive woman in tow. Duos proceed to kiss passionately while passersby stare awkwardly.
This makeout flash mob was clearly conceived to generate the shock value that many associate with the Gaultier name - so people will be led to believe that this new scent is somehow shocking. But it's not and it doesn't have to be.
Fulconis told me there is another men's flanker in the pipeline and I'll be curious to see (and smell) the direction it takes. If Gaultier really decides to retire his terrible persona, he would be making the most radical statement of all.