As I was paging through the December issue of GQ, I stopped for a moment on the first scented cologne ad, one for Armani’s Acqua di Gio—the best-selling fragrance in America, among men’s and women’s. I usually tear these obnoxious pages out (they just bulk up the magazines and foil any attempts to page through fluidly), but this time I decided to smell it.
I’ll be damned, it actually smelled good. I don’t like to admit that for a variety of reasons: First, could something that so many people like be anything more than just not bad? Aren’t fragrances that sell huge volume more marketing than perfumery? And hasn’t Giorgio Armani diluted the brand too much to be relevant anymore?
Acqua di Gio smells fresh without being sporty, citrusy without being sour. It’s almost soapy in a clean, mild way. Maybe my expectations were so low that I thought it would give me a headache. I don’t want to be around people who bathe in it, but it really wasn’t so bad. It came out in 1996, shortly after its women’s counterpart. It may have been created by the legendary perfumer Alberto Morillas (I cannot confirm it; he did do Acqua di Gio for women, however), who was also responsible for CK One, Thierry Mugler Cologne, and the new Bulgari Man fragrance. They all have a common mildness and freshness to them (and all contain bergamot), and they are all quite good.
Tania Sanchez’s review in Perfumes: The A to Z Guide says it was created by a committee of perfumers, including Morillas, and is consequently mediocre. She gives it three stars out of five and calls it “ho-hum: an aquatic citrus with woody notes and a dash of cooking herb” (meaning rosemary).
Trying to find out some basic information about Acqua di Gio highlights how difficult it can be to learn about the most common consumer products, even in the age of the internet. Where did all the information from the 1996 press kit disappear to? I’m willing to bet that not even the people at Armani know that—it predates the current era of fragrance blogs with archived announcements, launches, and fan reviews.
But what is it that made it so popular? Fourteen years after its release, it’s still got an ad in GQ, and it still outsells any other single scent in this country. Why? The neutral packaging may lend it some timeless credibility; so might the Armani name. And the smell? It isn’t bad.