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"A great fragrance is recognized by the nearly physical shock you experience when coming across it for the first time," wrote Edmond Roudnitska once.
It's been over twenty years, but I vividly remember that sunny summer day. I was walking down the street when my curiosity finally took over: I opened the bottle and experienced Givenchy Insensé for the first time. I remember the place where it happened down to the exact step. That first impression was so strong that to me, Insensé will always remain the fragrance of a stifling summer.
The nose behind Insensé (1993) was Daniel Moliere, a perfumer for Mane. Earlier, in 1980, he created for the house the charming Eau de Givenchy, which was officially abandoned several months ago, with yet another ‘relevant’ nondescript liquid produced under the old name instead. A year later, in 1994, Daniel Moliere created a flanker for the house's classic female fragrance, which was named Fleur d'Interdit. Some of his best known creations are possibly Santos de Cartier and Diptyque Tam Dao. The flacon for the latter was created by the legendary Pierre Dinand.
In his Guide (2008), Luca Turin gives Insensé five stars and writes that the fragrance proved to be too clever for its time, its potential ruined by the pale nondescript ad images, looking at which one got the idea that the fragrance was intended for spineless sissies.
The launch of Dior’s Fahrenheit in 1988 gave the green light to any and all experiments and exercises in male fragrance. Daniel Moliere decided to use that opportunity and create a floral composition: to this day, the territory of ‘male florals’ is viewed as highly experimental and the examples of such works remain to be quite few.
Taking a mossy green chypre as its backbone, the perfumer was going in the fougère direction, adding the classic pairing of lavender and coumarin. It begins traditionally with a block of citruses, the lavender is highlighted by spicy herbs and fresh greens (first and foremost, by a tart accord of blackcurrant leaf, which here seemingly replaces the petitgrain used in the classic chypre) and polished off by a generous dose of aldehydes. The center of the composition is a monumental white floral accord supported by a woody base with a pronounced coniferous accent. Basically, the intertwining of the blackcurrant and the fir themes can be felt throughout the entire duration of the fragrance as it develops.
Insensé is a completely unique fragrance, one with a pronounced 1980s heritage; it is filled with detail much like a Pieter Breugel canvas, yet perfectly balanced and harmonious. Even now it is perceived as avant-garde and innovative, evoking very strange emotions as if it’s a chilly November evening behind the window while you are looking at some very old photos: on one, the gang is all there drinking tea in the summer cottage and on another, there’s an early summer morning and a basket full of honey mushrooms on the floor. I can agree with Turin that Insensé possesses two main qualities, i.e. melancholy and mystery.
Insensé was never particularly popular, its flanker Insensé Ultramarine that appeared a year later sold much better: it was much closer to the watermelon-aquatic trend of that time and served as sort of Givenchy’s answer to Davidoff Cool Water, even though it did inherit from its predecessor a certain weirdness (here one really wants to say, insanity), and it was multifaceted and filled with detail in the spirit of the 80s as well.
Somewhere at the junction of the two millennia, Insensé was discontinued and readily forgotten, until the lavish celebrations of the House of Givenchy’s 50th Anniversary (2007), in honor of which some of the past classic fragrances of the house were reissued. Reappearing within the Les Parfums Mythiques series, Insensé was close to the original, although the difference was obvious when parallel ‘double wrist’ testing the two. However, that line is now history, too, leaving the chances of encountering the 1993 and the 2007 versions roughly equal and their prices comparable.
A year after the launch of the pillar fragrance, i.e. a notable fragrance launch typically followed by production of various limited editions, flankers etc., people at Givenchy decide to produce a flanker for Insensé, this time being something less monumental, slightly more frivolous and trendy, changing the bottle to a safe blue color. Insensé Ultramarine was created by Takasago perfumers Christian Mathieu (Kenzo pour Homme, Jacomo de Jacomo, Boss Elements Aqua) and Philippe Bousseton (Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar). They left the blackcurrant note of the fragrance intact, partially preserved the floral character, yet modernized the fougère frame, saturating it with fresh salty-ish marine notes.
Every time I smell Insensé Ultramarine, I imagine Ayvazovsky, only as if the latter were living today, working as a designer at some advertising agency. He is about to go to bed when he receives an e-mail with corrections: "too much sea, play around it, add some details." And then the naval battle scene becomes a rural landscape, too, and even slightly a still life.
To the block of citruses, formed by several natural essential oils, they added the then already classic accord of dehydromycenol/allyl amyl glycolate – ambroxan (say hi to the aforementioned Cool Water). The fruitiness is enhanced by damascene, the floral block is mainly built on the base of hedione hydroxycitronellal and lilial, adorned by rose odorants and plenty of other details. The aquatic accord consists of a generous dose of calone with an addition of empetal, helional and other similar substances. In the base we find a woody-musk accord on the basis of sandalwood and cedar materials.
Insensé Ultramarine (1994)
The Ultramarine version turned out to be more commercially successful which led to a significant number of second order flankers: there is seemingly no limit to the number of times the sporty-marine theme can be exploited, the aquatic accord modified and various adornments applied to an aromatic fougère.
First, back in 2001, we got the limited edition coffret called The Spirit of The Ocean, which contained 3 bottles of 30 ml each, with each composition being devoted to an ocean.
Spirit Of The Ocean Coffret:
Insensé Ultramarine Atlantic Surf (2001)
Insensé Ultramarine Indian Nature (2001)
Insensé Ultramarine Pacific Ethnic (2000)
And again in 2002, they produced three fragrances at once, also bottled into 30 ml flacons.
Aromatic Ocean Collection:
Insensé Ultramarine Morning Surf (2002)
Insensé Ultramarine Evening Dream (2002)
Insensé Ultramarine Midnight Swim (2002)
Starting from 2003, for the summer, Givenchy launched multiple limited editions, adding palms and surfboards to the print on the packaging. One of the more successful flankers was the Insensé Ultramarine Hawaii, authored by Firmenich’s perfumer Christophe Raynaud, which survived reissues and exists both in the classic Givenchy Insensé line’s flask and in a square flacon.
In that version, many details were abandoned, the fragrance itself being a collective image of aquatic fougères, which was slightly outdated even back in 2004. However if you would like to lose yourself in the crowd of a 1990s dance club, then that fragrance is simply the perfect way to do so.
In the 2000s, the watercolor aquatic fragrances of ‘pure freshness’ remained in demand mainly in Japan, where that type is always one of the most popular. That is the reason why logographs on perfume ads and packaging for some of the Insensé Ultramarine’s flankers are not at all uncommon.
Among the flankers we find some rather good ones, such as, for example, Insensé Ultramarine Ice Cube by Christian Mathieu, which is rather close to the original yet possesses a pleasant minty start; Insensé Ultramarine Beach Boy, where we find the fir notes lost back in 1994 again, or the most floral of the entire line, Insensé Ultramarine Wild Surf. But there are also rather strange or overly opportunistic ones, such as Insensé Ultramarine Blue Laser by Francois Demachy, which its clearly an idea to use the then ultra-popular note of fig, an idea that was carried out in a very nondescript way.
Insensé Ultramarine Ice Cube (2003)
Insensé Ultramarine Hawaii (2004)
Insensé Ultramarine Sport (2005)
Insensé Ultramarine Blue Sky (2007)
Insensé Ultramarine Ocean Cup (2008)
We should separately mention the female versions of these fragrances, even though there is hardly anything to talk about here: those are rather common, easy to understand fresh aquatic compositions, having little to do with the male prototype apart from the general fragrance profile.
Insensé Ultramarine For Her (2004)
Another fragrance that is worth mentioning here in this article is Greenergy, which appeared in 2000, i.e. before 'the flankers’ flankers'. It is related to the Insensé collection through packaging and the fragrance is bottled into the same kind of flacon, the difference being the green color of the design. Greenergy was created by Alberto Morillas and Ilias Ermenidis.
The fragrance is rather hard to classify, mainly because of the fact that in the center of the composition, just like in Insensé, we find a rather complex floral accord and a green herbal mix, supported by spicy herbs where one can decipher a sweet anise note of tarragon, as well as a refreshing mint detail.
Overall, the fragrance is unlikely to attract the aficionados of “the longlasting” and “the bold”, it was created with a decidedly different aesthetic in mind, which is in fact its strength.
Matvey Yudov is a chemist, perfumer, and musician. Mat is a researcher and specialist in the chemistry of aromatic materials. He graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1999. He writes for the popular perfume blog leopoldray.blogspot.com (in Russian).