How to Smell: Gigi




First impressions: Top notes

Spray your wrist and breathe in. What’s your first reaction?

Your experience of Gigi will be affected by whether you’ve read Colette’s 1944 novella of the same name. Perfumer Anaïs Biguine, of Jardins d’Écrivains, created Gigi as homage to Colette’s famous character, and fans of the book or Hollywood musical might immediately recognize the character in the scent that springs forth from the vial. Gigi was a young French girl whose grandmother and great aunt were grooming her for the life of a courtesan before she found love and happiness. The perfume, like the young girl, is bubbly, sweet, innocent, and bold, and that’s exactly what Biguine was aiming for. That’s why, if you want to get the deepest reading on Gigi the perfume, you could do well by heading straight to the library.

Biguine has packed four powerhouse white flowers into Gigi—orange blossom, neroli, tuberose, and jasmine—and they come forth immediately in a lush, velvety bouquet so large that you could hardly wrap your hands around it. Even the cut grass that spikes the opening with a flash of green freshness seems to have a creamy character. And even for someone who expects to smell the character embodied, the first spray is completely disarming.

How does that first spray make you feel? If you had to ascribe to it a personality, how would you describe that personality?

Historical context

Time for a historical interlude.

Colette’s novella is set in 1900 Paris during the Belle Époque (“Beautiful Era”), a time of optimism, prosperity, and progress before World War I brought terror to the lives of Parisians. It’s also a time that Colette experienced firsthand as a young woman. But by the time Colette wrote Gigi, Paris had changed immeasurably. It was the height of WWII, and Colette was in her 70s. Her third husband, a Jew, was in hiding from France’s Nazi occupiers. The fate of the entire European continent hung in the balance. This era was, in almost every way, the opposite of the Belle Époque, and it’s plausible that Colette’s writing of Gigi immersed her in a happier, simpler time when pretty, witty love stories could be taken for granted. Amid the horrors of WWII, Colette even gave Gigi, the character, a happy ending, free of the writer’s trademark cynicism about love and relationships.

The essence of that history is presented here, in olfactory form. Gigi the perfume is audaciously sweet in the way that only a delightfully naïve child—or a nation in the height of progress—can be, blessedly oblivious to the harsh realities that may be waiting around life's corners.

Sensations and scenery: Middle notes

Smell your wrist again. How has Gigi changed?

In the middle of the composition, Gigi begins the long arc toward its dry down, starting with the change from fresh to clean. Now that the cut grasses have faded, the sweet white flowers take on a soapy character.

Gigi is a traditionally feminine perfume throughout, but this is the stage where it smells most feminine. Although we encourage any man to be unafraid to rock a white floral, it seems appropriate that Gigi’s over-the-top femininity mirrors the strict gender constructs of the novella—constructs that would strike a modern-day audience as strange and even backward. (Gigi, after all, was a young girl training to become a mistress.) Colette herself is known for a little gender bending, but Gigi is all girl (and later, all lady).

Integration: Base notes

Several hours after you’ve applied it to your skin, Gigi rewards you with a simple and pleasing base of sandalwood and white musk. There is nothing bizarre or challenging or complicated about the end of this story, just as there is nothing bizarre or challenging or complicated about the end of the novella. It is simple, sweet prettiness and optimism—and sometimes that’s exactly what we need.


Read more How to Smell guides or get your full bottle of Gigi.